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FDA steps up fight against superbugs with livestock ruling

Published on 05/01/17 at 09:38am

The FDA began the year by announcing the implementation of ‘Guidance for Industry #213’. The new rule is a voluntary measure that encourages pharmaceutical companies to change the labelling on drugs for use in livestock. The guidance aims to stop antibiotics, deemed medically useful, being used to ‘promote growth’ in livestock, in a measure to combat the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Though the measure is non-compulsory, the pharmaceutical companies involved have agreed to comply and thereby will change the reasoning under which agricultural producers and veterinarians are allowed to use the antibiotics.

At present, livestock can spend their entire life being administered antibiotics, ostensibly to ‘promote growth’ and avoid diseases. The cramped and unhygienic conditions that livestock is currently kept in promotes the spread of disease and the antibiotics are therefore necessary to ensure the livestock reaches maturity.

However, there is an increasing fear regarding the development of antibiotic resistant ‘superbugs’ that are able to crossover from livestock to human population. The continued low-level use of antibiotics leads to the rise of certain strains of bugs that become immune to antibiotics in use, an issue that led to 700,000 human deaths worldwide and is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050.

The measure has been welcomed but critics believe it does not extent far enough. Though livestock holders can no longer use antibiotics to ‘promote growth’, they can still use it as a form of disease control. With labelling not stating duration of use on the antibiotics, there is a concern that use will simply be switched from one reasoning to another. This is a particular worry given that antibiotic use has been found to increase by 26% since 2009, according to an FDA report.

The FDA released a statement along with the news to point towards future goals: “The implementation of GFI #213 is a significant milestone in national efforts to address the use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals. The FDA is committed to ongoing collaboration with key stakeholders to support antimicrobial stewardship. Moving forward, the FDA intends to focus its efforts on such issues as (1) Aligning antimicrobial drug products with the principles of antimicrobial stewardship in veterinary settings; (2) Supporting efforts to foster stewardship of antimicrobials in veterinary settings; and (3) Assessing the impact of strategies intended to curb the emergence of antimicrobial resistance associated with the use of antimicrobial drugs in veterinary settings.”

Ben Hargreaves

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