An American health regulator has moved a step closer toward recommending a ban on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock feed.
The U. S. Food and Drug Agency last week issued a “draft guidance” to reduce the risk of antimicrobial resistance in veterinary drugs used in raising food-producing animals.
The document, released for public comment, is not a regulation or a legally enforceable duty. It only reflects FDA’s current thinking on the “judicious use” of antimicrobial drugs in the livestock industry.
But the agency makes it clear it does not support the practice of using veterinary drugs for non-therapeutic purposes.
That includes using antibiotics as growth promotants in feed rations, a common practice in the swine industry. The concern is about antimicrobials used for animals that are also used to treat humans.
WEIGHT OF EVIDENCE
“(T)he overall weight of evidence available to date supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth-enhancing purposes… in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health,” FDA said in a statement.
A question-and-answer sheet accompanying the statement is even more specific.
“Using medically important antimicrobial drugs to increase production in food-producing animals is not a judicious use.”
“FDA thinks that using medically important antimicrobial drugs to increase production in food-producing animals is not a judicious use,” it says.
“FDA recommends that all antimicrobial drugs for animals and people be used only when necessary and appropriate.”
FDA defines judicious use as using an antimicrobial drug only when necessary and appropriate.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, a U. S. lobby group, estimates 70 per cent of antibiotics used in North America are in livestock rations.
Antibiotic resistance is the ability of bacteria or other micro-organisms to survive exposure to an antibiotic. It’s believed farm animals can be a source of resistant bacteria due to the regular non-therapeutic use of antimicrobials.
Scientists have long warned that overuse of antibiotics can result in antibiotic resistance and produce so-called “super-bugs” that cannot be controlled by standard medication.
In Canada, medicated feed is commonly used for swine, less frequently for cattle and little for poultry.
Rick Bergman, a hog producer from Steinbach, said he gives medicated feed to weanlings in the nursery to prevent disease and give them a kick-start toward good health.
“It certainly does help, from my experience,” he said.
But Bergman said he does not use antimicrobials as growth promotants, nor do other producers he knows.
The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association supports the “prudent” use of antimicrobial drugs in swine and cattle, according to guidelines posted on the CVMA website.
That includes limiting therapeutic antimicrobials to sick or at-risk animals and treating the fewest animals indicated.
But a CVMA spokesperson said the association has no policy on whether antimicrobials should or should not be included in feed.
An Animal Nutrition Association of Canada spokesperson said medicated livestock feed contains only approved drugs at dosages set by Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
“Our stand is that the science shows at this point in time it’s safe and that it’s been approved for use in Canada,” said technical services director Melissa Dumont. “We’ll use them to the extent that the producers are requesting them.”
Dr. Mike Sheridan, a Steinbach swine veterinarian, said young pigs usually get medication at therapeutic levels for several weeks until their natural immune systems are fully active.
BECOMING MORE SELECTIVE
But there’s increasingly less use of antimicrobials as growth promotants and a greater trend toward treating animals as required, Sheridan said.
“Part of our role on farms is teaching people, why would you give everybody in this pen something when only one pig needs it?”
U. S. livestock groups reacted swiftly to the FDA’s statement by defending current producer practices.
The National Pork Producers Council warned that, while the proposed guidance does not have the force of law, FDA could treat it as such.
“This guidance could eliminate certain antibiotics that are extremely important to the health of animals,” said Sam Carney, National Pork Producers Council president, in a statement.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said antimicrobial resistance is a complex issue that cannot be solved by focusing solely on animal drugs.
“Only by carefully evaluating antimicrobial resistance in a comprehensive manner that evaluates all of the peer-reviewed science related to all animal use, human use and industrial use will we effectively address this important issue,” said Dr. Elizabeth Parker, NCBA’s chief veterinarian.
The American Meat Institute in a statement made a distinction between antibiotic resistance and antibiotic residues in food.
“Some media reports have suggested that meat products are the main means of exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This is patently false,” said David Ray, AMI vice-president of public [email protected]