Industry, Experts Await FDA Word on Antibiotics in Livestock

Livestock experts, consumer groups and the food industry are awaiting a response from the FDA on the use of certain antibiotics, including tetracyclines and penicillin, in animal feed, in the wake of a ruling that the FDA must withdraw approval for the use of these antimicrobials unless the manufacturers can prove their safety for this purpose.

The ruling, issued March 22 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, ordered the FDA to begin hearings on whether the antibiotics are safe, given evidence that widespread use of antibiotics may promote the development of drug-resistant bacteria.

Texas Tech epidemiologist and professor of food safety Guy Loneragan, B.V.Sc., PhD, a livestock expert, says it was expected the FDA would move by last week to issue a document that discussed its position on antibiotic use in livestock—but nothing has been released.

“In June 2010, the FDA released a draft Guidance for Industry #209 on this issue,” he notes. “The comment period on that draft has expired and it was expected that a final document would have been issued two weeks ago.”

That document, The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals, declared that while antibiotic use in animals for disease prevention purposes could be supported, their use for production purposes—to promote growth—was not appropriate. It said that “the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals should be limited to those uses that are considered necessary for assuring animal health,” and only under veterinary oversight or consultation. .

Loneragan notes that a post-document from the FDA outlining mechanisms for increasing veterinary oversight of in-feed antimicrobials through a Veterinary Feed Directive is also expected “any day now.” The FDA first ruled that the nonmedical use of antibiotics in animals was promoting the growth of drug-resistant bacteria in 1977.

“The updated version of Guidance #209 should really make clear the FDA’s position on various claims associated with antimicrobial use in animals, and I think that will address what the court ruled in New York,” Loneragan says.

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