WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration today announced measures to rein in antibiotic use in animals, moves that industry groups generally saw as positive but consumer and animal welfare advocates condemned.
First, FDA issued a final guidance asking for drug manufacturers to voluntarily change the labels of antibiotics that are designated as important in human medicine to no longer promote such drugs for animal growth promotion purposes over the next three years.
The agency also released a proposed rule that would give a Veterinary Feed Directive designation to drugs that could previously be obtained over the counter.
Members of the Animal Health Institute, National Pork Producers Council and American Veterinary Medical Association expressed a commitment to the “judicious use” of antibiotics in a media call today.
“We also welcome the proposed revisions to the Veterinary Feed Directive,” said Richard Carnevale, vice president of regulatory, scientific and international affairs at the Animal Health Institute, which represents veterinary medicine companies.
From a producer’s standpoint, “the new guidance and the new rules for VFD are going to mean a real change for how antibiotics are used on the farm, and also how veterinarians are involved in those uses,” said Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian at the National Pork Producers Council.
Wagstrom noted that when Denmark banned antibiotic use for animals 10 years ago, the industry had problems with disease and the cost of production rose. However, she added that the U.S. does not use antibiotics as much for growth promotion as Denmark did at that time.
Moreover, there may be other antibiotics that aren’t essential for human medicine that could still be used for growth promotion.
“Our farmers will be using the antibiotics that are available and federally licensed in the manner by which they are licensed,” said Wagstrom.
For its part, the National Chicken Council commended FDA for its “open and collaborative process” in updating its policies.
“We strongly support the responsible and judicious use of FDA-approved antibiotics and the involvement of veterinarians in raising healthy chickens,” Ashley Peterson, NCC vice president of scientific and regulatory affairs, said in a statement.
American Meat Institute expressed a similar sentiment and commitment to working with FDA on this issue in a statement from Chief Scientist Betsy Booren.
Consumer advocates, however, were not as impressed. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., an outspoken critic of FDA’s antibiotics policy and the only microbiologist in Congress, said the new measures don’t go far enough.
“The FDA’s voluntary guidance is an inadequate response to the overuse of antibiotics on the farm with no mechanism for enforcement and no metric for success,” Slaughter said in a statement.
Some animal rights and environmental advocacy groups also harshly criticized the guidance as too lenient.
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“FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased. There’s no reason why voluntary recommendations will make a difference now, especially when FDA’s policy covers only some of the many uses of antibiotics on animals that are not sick,” Avinash Kar, health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.
Industry groups were quick to counter such remarks.
“Guidance documents are the tool FDA uses to tell industry how the agency expects things to be done and can only be ignored by companies who don’t want to get products through the agency’s approval process,” said Carnevale.
He added it was a misconception that producers could keep using antibiotics in the same way after the labels are changed because of the regulatory requirements for drug manufacturers and because it is illegal to use drugs for purposes not listed on the label.
When asked if the total amount of antibiotics used by the industry would change as a result of FDA’s new policies, Carnevale said it wasn’t possible to determine that at this time.
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