Skip navigation

FDA Issues New Guidance on Antibiotics

The Food and Drug Administration has tried for more than three decades to pass limits on sub therapeutic use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock. Each time, they’ve been turned away by Congress, which is lobbied heavily by agricultural and drug industry interests.

It’s a cyclical tale, for sure, but one that becomes more interesting as public interest and scientific evidence on the issue increases. Now, for the first time in several years, the FDA is going at the industry again. In a draft guidance issued yesterday, the agency recommended banning the use of antibiotics to promote growth in animals.

What’s at stake, the FDA and numerous health experts claim, is the future potency of antibiotics for humans. Drugs like tetracycline and penicillin transfer from animals to the people who consume them, and their overuse has given rise to new strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.

“Antimicrobial resistance, and the resulting failure of antimicrobial therapies in

humans, is a mounting public health problem of global significance,” the draft guidance document reads.

Industry groups like the National Pork Board, in response, say that the FDA is overreacting. They claim that there is not enough scientific evidence to support such claims. Furthermore, they point out that the majority of producers do give antibiotics for health reasons only, and not to promote growth.

Regulators and the industry can continue to arm wrestle. Consumers, meanwhile, are concerned, and many have decided not to take any chances. According to a recent study from West Texas A&M University, one-third of them believe they’ll develop resistant to antibiotics if they eat meat from animals treated sub therapeutically. As a result, they’ve begun buying meat and poultry raised without the use of hormones and antibiotics. More manufacturers, even large-scale ones, have stepped up to meet this demand, and some retailers, like Dorothy Lane Market in Ohio, even have their own untreated private label lines.

The FDA has begun the public comment period on its latest guidance. It could be the lead-up to another letdown for the agency, but this time around, under a new administration, the FDA has vowed to do everything in its power to get results.

“We have regulatory mechanisms, and the industry knows that,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the FDA’s deputy commissioner, during a conference call.