FDA Moves to Restrict Use of Antibiotics in Livestock
The Food and Drug Administration will ban some uses of antibiotics in cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys out of concern that food-borne bacteria that can sicken humans are becoming resistant to the drugs.
The ban, set to take effect April 5, applies to a class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins, which are sold for human use under brands including Keflex, Ceftin and Cedax and are used to treat bone, urinary-tract and respiratory infections. It will make it illegal to give healthy animals the drugs as a way to help prevent disease, though using them to treat a specific illness will remain legal.
The FDA said Wednesday it is concerned that using the drugs in ways beyond those specified on the label—a common practice in the livestock industry—helps create strains of food-borne bacteria that are resistant to these antibiotics. Humans can be infected with cephalosporin-resistant bacteria by eating contaminated meat that is undercooked.
“If these drug-resistant bacterial strains infect humans, it is likely that cephalosporins will no longer be effective for treating disease in those people,” the agency said in a document released Wednesday.
The FDA said it is also cracking down on cattle, swine and poultry producers that use the drugs at unapproved dose levels, frequencies and durations.
The move is a modest step, as cephalosporins account for a tiny fraction of antibiotics used in livestock. Farm animals in the U.S. consumed 29.1 million pounds of antibiotics in 2010, the FDA said, of which cephalosporins accounted for 54,000 pounds. Still, the plan brought praise from groups favoring restrictions on antibiotic use.
“Over the last decade there’s been a rapid increase in cephalosporin resistance in farm animals and in sick humans, and we hope that this [FDA] ban will… reduce it,” said Steve Roach, a spokesman for the nonprofit group Keep Antibiotics Working.
Cephalosporins are widely used on chickens even before they are hatched, injected directly into eggs, Mr. Roach said. That practice will have to stop after the FDA ban is enacted.
Both the National Chicken Council and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association rejected the FDA’s assertion that antibiotic use for livestock contributes to bacterial resistance that threatens humans.