A new federal policy aimed at reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture may not be as effective as officials intended — at least in the near-term — in addressing the alarming rise in drug resistance, a new report suggests.
Beginning Jan. 1, the Food and Drug Administration will impose a voluntary ban on the use of key antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth, a practice that is contributing to the spread of so-called superbugs.
While the policy is voluntary, the makers of antibiotics for animals have agreed to comply, which means that starting next year food animal producers will no longer be able to simply buy these antibiotics at their supply stores. Veterinarians will need to oversee their use.
But analysts at the Pew Charitable Trusts who studied the labels of the nearly 400 medically important antibiotics — antibiotics used in both human and animal medicine — found that many suggest the drugs can be used to maintain weight in animals or to combat the possible negative impact of “stress” — loopholes that could allow the food animal industry to keep using the drugs to hit production goals.
“It basically allows these products to be used to make sure the animals keep growing,” said Karin Hoelzer, who works at the Pew Trusts on antibiotic resistance and food safety issues.
“The question is: Is it really judicious to use these drugs for something like stress, which probably in many cases can be prevented or mitigated through things like management practices?”