For Immediate
March 9, 1999

For more information:

Related Links:
Petition Summary
CSPI Report 5/28/98
CSPI’s letter to the FDA
Send a letter to the FDA

FDA Should Ban the Use of Certain Antibiotics to Fatten Farm Animals, Groups Ask
Farm Use of Antibiotics Squanders Precious Drugs

WASHINGTON - More than 50 scientists and 41 health, consumer, and other groups today called on the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to ban the use of certain antibiotics to fatten livestock. In a letter and petition to the FDA, the groups charged that feeding antibiotics to livestock endangers the value of those drugs for treating life-threatening diseases in humans.

For more than 40 years, ranchers and growers have been feeding low levels of penicillin, tetracycline, and other antibiotics to poultry, cattle, and pigs to speed growth and cut costs. That use accounts for about a third of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. Scientists worldwide have decried the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth because it increases the prevalence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics' effects and jeopardizes human health.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington, Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said: “Agribusiness is recklessly squandering one of the only weapons against deadly bacteria. That industry continues to oppose tighter regulations even though new drug-resistant strains of bacteria are becoming a serious public-health hazard.”

CSPI staff scientist Patricia Lieberman, Ph.D., added, “The U.S. is one of the only developed nations that still allows the ‘subtherapeutic' use of important human-use antibiotics to promote the growth of livestock. For the sake of the public's health, it's high time that the FDA kicked livestock off the drug habit.”

In the past two years, the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called for ending the use of several antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock.

“I've seen hospital patients die due to antibiotic-resistant infections,” said Dr. J. Glenn Morris, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Hospital Epidemiology at the University of Maryland. “To reduce rates of antibiotic resistance we've got to eliminate unnecessary uses of antibiotics in all settings: in hospitals, in doctors's offices, and on farms.”

Bacteria can develop defense mechanisms (“resistance”) against one or several antibiotics. Those antibiotics are then useless in treating infections caused by the antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Adding antibiotics to livestock feed can lead to antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens. That can make cases of food poisoning difficult to treat or even deadly.

One common form of food poisoning is caused by Salmonella typhimurium. The prevalence of Salmonella typhimurium infections that are resistant to five commonly used antibiotics has soared from less than 1% in 1979 to 34% in 1996. Those infections — if they require treatment with antibiotics — are increasingly difficult to treat.

New antibiotics also are jeopardized by the use of related antibiotics on farms. Synercid, for example, may become one of the only effective cures for deadly bloodstream infections. Although it has not yet been approved for use in humans, Synercid's value already has been compromised because a related drug, virginiamycin, is fed to livestock. In the U.S., bacteria resistant to Synercid have been found in turkeys fed virginiamycin. In Germany, bacteria resistant to Synercid have been detected in humans even though the drug has not been given to people.

“Decreasing the use of antibiotics in livestock feed can decrease the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and does not adversely affect animal health,” Lieberman said. “For example, in Denmark, following a 1995 ban of the use of avoparcin to promote growth in chickens, the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant enterococci bacteria in chickens declined from 82% to 12% in three years.”

The Environmental Defense Fund, Union for Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen’s Health Research Group, and Food Animal Concerns Trust joined CSPI in petitioning the FDA. Other groups that advocate the ban include the American Public Health Association, American Medical Women’s Association, and Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. Scientists supporting the petition include Nobel-laureate Joshua Lederberg, Ph.D., Rockefeller University; Dr. Robert Baltimore, Yale University School of Medicine; Stanley Falkow, Ph.D., Stanford University; and Dr. Joyce Lashof, University of California, Berkeley.

[ CSPI News Releases ] [ CSPI Home Page ]