The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s proposal for voluntary guidelines that would wean livestock off growth-inducing antibiotics left foodies and public health officials disappointed this week. “Nonbinding recommendations are not a strong enough antidote to the problem,” argued Rep. Louis Slaughter (D-N.Y.). Avinash Kar, public health staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, replied to the news with a statement equivalent to an eye roll: “We've essentially had a voluntary measure in place for 35 years since FDA first acknowledged the risks of using antibiotics in livestock feed, and we have seen the use of antibiotics grow exponentially in that period.” Food Politics’ Marion Nestle was also frustrated: “I’m guessing this is the best the FDA can do in an election year,” she lamented, saying the proposal looked more like a “direct challenge to drug companies and meat producers to clean up their acts” than a real solution.
But an actual solution isn’t as simple as an outright ban on these antibiotics.
There’s the argument that antibiotics keep livestock healthy. Not that Mother Jones’ Tom Philpott buys that as an excuse to continue feeding pills to animals that then make us, the consumer, immune to antibiotics. “By preserving ‘disease prevention’ as a legit use, the FDA allows the industry to keep on throwing pharmaceuticals at -- instead of forcing it to clean up -- filthy and cramped conditions that allow bacterial pathogens to thrive on factory farms,” he writes.