The FDA’s plan to curb the overuse of antimicrobials in animals is needed, and it’s been needed for years. The question is: Will the plan be good enough? The FDA first tried to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use in the animal industry back in 1977 without success. I’m glad the agency released additional guidance in 2013, but I’m nervous that it might not be effective.
There are two problems that I see with the guidance. First, the FDA is expecting drug companies to voluntarily remove the use of antibiotics for production purposes, in other words, growth promotion. The 1977 guidelines also were voluntary, and nothing happened. The agency is reassuring us that companies will comply with the guidance, but then the companies will have 3 years to comply. The second problem with the guidance is that it shouldn’t take 3 years, when this has been a problem for almost 70 years.
Another important issue is the veterinary feed directive (VFD). Currently antibiotics can be placed in feed without a veterinarian’s prescription because they are not designated as VFD drugs. A new amendment to the VFD would classify antibiotics as VFD drugs, therefore requiring a veterinarian’s script in order to have an antibiotic included in an animal’s feed. While I am happy that antibiotics will now be included as VFD drugs, experience tells us that people are going to figure out how to get antibiotics. Are we going to see veterinarians who don’t think that the use of antibiotics is a problem and say, “Yeah, I’ll give you some antibiotics to help your animals,” — whether those animals are really sick or not? I’m nervous about the work-arounds, and I’m concerned that we will continue with the status quo of overuse of antibiotics for growth promotion.
We need to recognize that every area in which we use antibiotics will affect resistance, whether it’s the agricultural industry or human medicine. Appropriate antibiotic use will prolong the use of these important therapeutic drugs.
Is this going to cost food producers more? Yes, it probably will cost more. But they still should be able to produce the same amount of food without the use of antibiotics — it just might not be as quick.
We all have to be more aware of the issue. All of us need to be aware that there is excess use of antibiotics in the animal industry and that will impact human health. I would encourage people to be cognizant of the meats they buy and support those companies that raise their animals without the use of antibiotics.
Jason Newland, MD, MEd
Medical director of patient safety and systems reliability
Children's Mercy Hospital, Kansas City
Disclosures: Newland received an antimicrobial stewardship grant from Pfizer.