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FDA limits some antibiotic use in food animals

January 04, 2012|By Eryn Brown, Los Angeles Times / for the Booster Shots blog
  • The FDA is limiting some off-label antibiotic use in livestock. It said the rules were intended to slow the development of antibiotic resistance in microbes that can infect people as well as animals.
The FDA is limiting some off-label antibiotic use in livestock. It said… (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles…)

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration prohibited some unapproved uses of antibiotics in livestock on Wednesday.

Farmers will no longer be able to administer a class of antibiotics called cephalosporins to cattle, pigs, chicken and turkeys in unapproved doses or frequencies, or as a means of preventing disease, the agency said.

Also prohibited: using drugs not originally intended for use in livestock. Some limited extra-label use will still be permitted, including prescription drugs in less-commonly eaten animals such as rabbits and ducks.

In people, cephalosporins are used to treat pneumonia and other infections -- including Salmonella.  In animals, antibiotics are often used to promote growth.  But the practice may have helped some strains of bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, and therefore harder to treat when they strike humans.  

Last year, the Los Angeles Times reported that "the American Medical Assn., the World Health Organization and other medical groups have warned that the misuse of antibiotics in food animal production may be creating a serious problem for human health by fostering development of drug-resistant bacteria," and that some studies showed that taking antibiotics out of animal feed "made antibiotic-resistant bacteria less prevalent in both animals and people with no ill effects for animals or ranchers."

In a statement issued Wednesday, the FDA said it was taking action to "preserve the effectiveness of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans."  Preventing overuse of the antibiotics is intended to slow microbes' development of resistance to the drugs, the agency noted.  

"If cephalosporins are not effective in treating these diseases, doctors may have to use drugs that are not as effective or that have greater side effects," it added.

In 2008, the FDA was poised to put similar rules limiting off-label antibiotic use in livestock into effect, but rescinded the prohibition when agricultural interests objected.  

In a statement released Wednesday, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a microbiologist who has written legislation intended to prevent antibiotic overuse, said she was happy to see the new rule but was dismayed that the action hadn't come sooner.

"We need to start acting with the swiftness and decisiveness this problem deserves," she said.  "With over 1 million Salmonella cases in the U.S. each year, at least 30,000 Americans will contract cephalosporin-resistant bacteria every year.  I'm glad the FDA is finally acting but how many Americans have needlessly been sickened in the meantime?"

The FDA's new rules are scheduled to take effect April 5.  It has published a Q & A about antibiotics on its website.

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