MONDAY, June 28, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- The continued use of antimicrobial drugs to promote growth in chickens, cattle and other livestock is tied to antibiotic resistance and should be phased out for that purpose, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
The drugs in question include penicillin, tetracycline, macrolides and erythromycin, which are also commonly prescribed to people to fight serious illnesses. Growing microbial resistance to these and other antibiotics is rendering them less effective against a range of infections, agency experts said.
"FDA believes the overall evidence supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production purposes is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health," Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, principal deputy commissioner of food and drugs at the Food and Drug Administration, said during a late morning teleconference.
"Antimicrobial agents have been used in human and veterinarian medicine for more than 50 years, with tremendous benefits to both humans and animals," Sharfstein said. "But, because bacteria are so good at becoming resistant to antimicrobial drugs, it is essential that such drugs be used judiciously to delay the development of resistance."
Misuse and overuse of these drugs result in a rapid development of resistance, which has been growing, Sharfstein said. "Developing strategies to reduce antimicrobial resistance is critically important to protect the public health," he said.
The FDA is issuing draft guidelines for limiting the use of these drugs in food-producing animals to situations involving the animal's health. In addition, to reduce antibiotic resistance, these drugs should only be used under the supervision of a veterinarian, the agency said.
Although there have been attempts by the food industry and veterinary groups to limit the use of antibiotics, they have fallen short, said Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine. "We believe additional steps are needed to have an impact on this problem," she said at the press conference.
The public and industry will have 60 days to comment on the proposed guidelines, the agency said. Sharfstein said he hopes to see progress soon.
One food industry group, the National Pork Producers Council, believes that FDA regulations already in place are sufficient.
The FDA approves antibiotics for four purposes: treatment of illness, prevention of disease, control of disease and the nutritional efficiency of animals, the council said.
"According to the Animal Health Institute, approximately 13 percent of animal antibiotics are used for nutritional efficiency," the council said in a note on its Web site. "Existing FDA regulations provide adequate safeguards against antibiotic resistance. Any regulatory decisions or legislative action on antibiotic use in animals must be transparent and made based on scientific risk analysis."
For more information on antibiotic resistance, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.