FDA wants to limit antibiotics in meat

Marketplace Staff Jun 28, 2010


Tess Vigeland: The medical community has been warning for years that we all take too many antibiotics. Because, the more we throw at these bugs we’re trying to kill, he more quickly they evolve to beat those drugs.

Now, the battle against so-called “antibiotic resistance” is going down on the farm. Today, the Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines designed to reduce the antibiotics fed to cows, pigs and chickens.

Marketplace’s Jeff Horwich reports.

Jeff Horwich: Before we eat the vast majority of animals in this country, they’ve been eating antibiotics.

Jeff Bender directs the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota.

Jeff Bender: We know that if we feed at these really low levels, somehow these animals don’t get disease and they grow faster.

Faster — and bigger, says Missouri farmer Richard Oswald.

Richard Oswald: Antibiotic feeding does stimulate the appetite of the animal somewhat, so they tend to eat more than they would normally if they were just out on their own.

The FDA says all those antibiotics have contributed to drug-resistant strains of e.coli, salmonella and other deadly bacteria. So today the agency said fattening livestock for market is no longer a good enough reason to give antibiotics. New draft regulations say they must be medically necessary and overseen by a veterinarian.

It’s a challenge to the large, factory farms that supply most of the nation’s meat. The University of Minnesota’s Jeff Bender says where animals are tightly packed, the diet of antibiotics keeps disease from spreading.

Bender: This is going to require some innovation by the industry to think about what does this mean for us. Does this mean less animals that we have in confined spaces?

Bender calls the FDA guidelines “an important step.” Just down the hall, his colleague, veterinary epidemiologist Randy Singer, worries it may be a backward step.

Randy Singer: I am concerned if we pull antibiotics out of the feed of animals that we’ll see an increase in the illness of these animals on the farms, and therefore we will need more antibiotics at higher doses.

Singer says that’s what happened when the EU made the same move four years ago.

I’m Jeff Horwich for Marketplace.

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