By M Djuric, DVM
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently issued a guidance document on the use of antibiotics in farm animals. The document notes that excessive use leads to the spread of antibiotic-resistant diseases in both animals and humans. In the document, the FDA proposes that pharmaceutical companies voluntarily change some of their labelling and marketing practices to help phase out the use of certain antibiotics for enhanced food production.
All the drugs affected by this plan are antibacterial products, which have long been approved for the treatment, control or prevention of animal diseases. However, the same antibiotics are often added to the animal feed or drinking water of cattle, pigs, and poultry to gain weight faster or use less feed to gain weight.
The agency is asking animal pharmaceutical companies to notify the FDA within the next three months of their intent to voluntarily make the changes recommended in the guidance document. Based on timeframes set out in the guidance document, companies would then have three years to fully implement these changes.
If manufacturers voluntarily make these changes, the affected products can then only be used in food-producing animals to treat, prevent or control disease under order of or by prescription from a licensed veterinarian.
Whilst the FDA's voluntary plan is a step in right direction, it is unlikely that such a plan on its own will provide an adequate solution to tackle non-medical use of veterinary drugs in food animals, neither in USA nor globally. Voluntary, unenforceable requests to pharmaceutical companies to indicate on their drug labels that antibiotics should not be used to promote growth in farm animals are unlikely to have a significant or lasting effect.
A more robust response in the form of a binding, international agreement covering the use and prescription regimes of veterinary antibiotics in farm animals seems to be a more appropriate way of dealing with the growing threat of antibiotic resistance on the global scale.