The FDA is a mysterious agency – it’s impossible to predict what opinions it may hold to on any given subject. One minute it’s making snide comments about high fructose corn syrup behind closed doors, and the next it’s making a very public withdrawal of a proposal to place limits on antibiotics use in feed for livestock. The FDA announced the latter action this past Thursday, and it has reportedly led to some serious concerns among public health experts.
According to reports, health concerns regarding antibiotics in livestock feed have been an issue since 1977 – it was then that the FDA was first petitioned to withdraw its approval of antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline for “subtherapeutic uses,” but the U.S. Congress stepped in and asked the FDA to avoid making any rulings until more research could be conducted. This year, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit forcing the FDA to follow through with the withdrawal. But instead, the FDA withdrew its pursuit of the ban and announced that it will be pursuing a set of guidelines that suggest alternatives to those in the agriculture industry – on a voluntary basis, of course.
RELATED STORIES FROM FOOD AND DRINK DIGITAL
- LA School District Sets Healthy Lunches Up for Failure
- Food Safety Online Tool for Farmers Launched by USDA
- Renewable Energy on the Dairy Farm
- CLICK HERE TO READ THE LATEST EDITION OF FOOD & DRINK DIGITAL
"This is a step backwards in protecting the public from the rise in antibiotic resistance," NRDC staff attorney Avinash Kar told the Huffington Post. Indeed, it is a major concern among public health experts that the continued usage of antibiotics in everyday livestock feed is contributing to the cultivation of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics – a situation that can cause major problems when animals do fall ill with difficult-to-treat superbugs.
These experts are also skeptical about how much impact any voluntary actions will have, given the size and influence of the U.S. pharmaceutical business – especially when it’s reported that an estimated 80 percent of antibiotics in the country are administered to livestock. “Right now, there is no economic incentive for drug companies to cut back on their sales," Steve Roach of advocacy group Food Animal Concerns Trust told HuffPo. "To think they would do so voluntarily is absurd."
What impact this decision will ultimately have remains to be seen, but the NRDC has already announced plans to fight the FDA decision in court. In the meantime it is sure to further divide the food industry between those who are comfortable with consistent antibiotic treatments and those who find them unethical, both producers and consumers alike.