Farm Animal Antibiotics: Prescription Only?

Pharmaceutical producers have “largely agreed” to require an Rx for animal antibiotics.

raw meat with corn and antibiotics

The FDA has brokered a new agreement to regulate antibiotic use in livestock. But will the measure actually be enforced? (Photo: Jupiterimages/Getty Images)

Yesterday, the New York Times reported on what many might consider a landmark agreement for agricultural regulation. After meeting with major pharmaceutical companies, the Food and Drug Administration announced new regulations on antibiotic use for farm animals. Specifically, pharmaceutical producers have “largely agreed” to require prescriptions for antibiotics to be used on farm animals. Now, farmers will have to receive consent from a veterinarian before feeding their “cattle, pigs, chickens and [others]” such medications.

For years, farmers have force-fed animals antibiotics to fatten them up. As a result, we are witnessing an influx of drug resistant bacteria in humans. By consuming antibiotic-saturated meat and dairy, humans have overexposed themselves to many of these crucial medications.

One tragic result of this overexposure is the influx of antibiotic resistant food-born illness. Over the past decade, over 20,000 people in the U.S. have been infected with such illnesses. 27 of these victims died and another 3,000 were sent to the hospital. The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals clearly must be addressed. But, will this new establishment actually incite change?

Michael Taylor, a representative from the F.D.A., says the heightened regulation “will result in significant reductions in agricultural antibiotic use.” Taylor also expressed confidence in “reductions” of drug resistant bacteria in humans resulting from the new agreement. However, health experts outside of the government were skeptical.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest claims the F.D.A.’s decision is “tragically flawed.” In its report, the Center argues that the F.D.A.’s actions did not fulfill but merely diverted its “authority” to uphold public health standards. Now, according to the Center, the responsibility to properly regulate antibiotic use rests in the pharmaceutical and agricultural industries. They always prioritize ethics over profits, right?

The Center proposes the F.D.A. take a stronger stance on the abuse of antibiotics by supporting the Preservation of Antibiotics in Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA). If passed, PAMTA would outlaw “non-therapeutic use” of top antibiotics in farm animals. U.S. dairy owners claim that PAMTA would inhibit their production. However, Danish farmers remain top exporters of pork despite working under similar regulation.

It’s clear that meat and dairy production can prosper without over-drugging livestock. So, why are U.S. farmers still permitted to do it?

Do you think the FDA is doing enough to reduce antibiotics in our food supply?

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