We have a long way to go before the use of antibiotics in farm animals is strictly regulated. But in the food industry, which often puts profit over people, any change—even incremental—is significant. In 2012, the food industry made several strides in animal antibiotic regulation.
In February, a study published in the journal mBio put to rest the question that scientists and agribusiness have fought over for years—whether or not antibiotics in livestock feed propagate antibiotic-resistant germs that threaten human health. Scientists came out on top: The study demonstrated that yes, feeding animals antibiotics to boost their growth and ward off sickness in overcrowded factory farms is, in fact, hurting human health.
A month later, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Katz ordered the FDA to prove that feeding antibiotics to livestock has no negative effect on human health—or stop the practice altogether.
By April, the FDA announced new regulations on antibiotic use for farm animals, stating that pharmaceutical producers have “largely agreed” to require prescriptions for any drugs used. Instead of dosing up cattle, pigs, and chickens as desired, farmers will have to obtain consent from a veterinarian before feeding animals medications. Michael Taylor, a representative from the FDA, said the new regulation would “result in significant reductions in agricultural antibiotic use.”
Unfortunately, the end is not nigh—pharmaceutical companies also have a financial stake in animal antibiotic use. But it’s a small step forward. For 2013, cross your fingers for the passage of the Preservation of Antibiotics on Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which would outlaw nontherapeutic antibiotic use in livestock altogether.
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