US move to curb antibiotic resistance not enough to address use of drugs in animals

EU tightens animal feed regulations further

By Mouna Nagaraju
Published: Tuesday 25 August 2015


In the past few weeks, first the EU and then the US have adopted measures to address growing concern over antibiotic resistance. The measures adopted in the US, among others, advocate implementation of voluntary guidelines set by the FDA to curb use of antibiotics in food-producing animals; the initiatives by the EU will further strengthen its mandatory regulations on animal feed.

On September 18, the president of the US, Barack Obama, issued an executive order on combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria and a national strategy on the same, according to reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. This is the first time that the issue of antibiotic resistance has received this much attention in the US. The order was issued in the backdrop of a report that was submitted to Obama by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST). Five goals set in the strategy are: to slow the development and spread of resistant infections; to strengthen surveillance efforts; to develop rapid and innovative measures for identification of resistant bacteria; to accelerate research aimed at developing new antibacterials, therapeutics and vaccines; and improve international collaboration and capacity. PCAST also sets specific objectives to be met by 2020. These include implementing antibiotic stewardship and eliminating the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals.

The executive order talks about the role of the US government in addressing the serious threat to public health and economy emanating from growing antibiotic resistance. It is estimated that 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria in the US each year. A task force is to be formed that will submit a national action plan to the president by mid-February 2015 and provide him with annual updates on government’s actions. The action plan would focus on how the goals can be met. Also, a Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria shall provide advice, information, and recommendations to the US government on programs and policies intended to combat antibiotic resistance.

The move has received a mixed response in the US media. It is felt that coming from the president’s office, the issue of antibiotic resistance has been given due priority and there is likely to be more aggressive and coordinated action. However, a few experts, especially consumer groups, have said that antibiotic use in animals, which is about 80 percent of the total antibiotics sold in the US and possibly the biggest contributor to the problem, has not been handled adequately

The national strategy on combating antibiotic-resistant bacteria suggests implementing the guidelines for industry set in 2013 by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA). These involve phasing-out medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and asking drug companies to remove “growth promotion” from their product labels. The guidelines have been criticised for being voluntary and allowing antibiotics to be used for disease prevention. A recent investigation by Reuters, a news agency, also points to the ineffectiveness of the overall measures taken by FDA so far. The investigation revealed routine administration of low doses of antibiotics to chickens via feed by some of the largest poultry producers in the US.

Europe has better record

Contrary to the voluntary guidelines in the US, the European Union (EU) and a few member countries like Denmark and Netherlands have made great strides in cutting down non-therapeutic antibiotic usage in food-producing animals. While the EU banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in feed in 2006, just two weeks ago, it adopted proposals which would tighten the rules on medicated feed further. Even the therapeutic administration of medicated feed, if required, will now have to be under veterinary oversight.

The importance of mandatory regulations over the voluntary measures in the context of Netherlands has also been advocated in the US media by those who have expressed dissatisfaction with the voluntary US measures. Netherlands, after having realized the ineffectiveness of voluntary restrictions, introduced a mandatory reduction and reduced animal antibiotic use by about 50 per cent during 2009-2013.

Considering the rampant use of antibiotics in the Indian poultry industry, as pointed by Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), it is important that India follows proven successful policies of the EU and not voluntary measures of the US.

CSE lab report on antibiotics in chicken meat, July 2014

Reduced antibiotic use in livestock - How Denmark tackled resistance

Understanding and managing zoonotic risk in the new livestock industries

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