FDA curbs use of certain antibiotics in animals

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After long delays, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued an order today prohibiting  certain uses of the cephalosporin class of antimicrobial drugs in cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys.

This may sound like yawnsville to some but it's a big deal to thousands who've become increasingly concerned about the waning effectiveness of antibiotics on human disease because of overuse in animals.Among them are the scientists at the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming.

“We applaud FDA’s move,” said Laura Rogers, the campaign's project director today in a statment. “This restriction is a victory for human health, as it will help ensure we can still rely on cephalosporins to treat life-threatening infections today and in the future.”

Less ecstatic but still happy was U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who often notes that she's the only microbiologist in Congress.

Slaughter has been fighting to preserve medically important antiobiotics for human use since 2007 when she first introduced her PAMTA legislation. But she has consistently come up against stiff opposition, much of it from the the industrial meat industry which denies a connection between routine feedng of antibiotics to (non-sick) animals and antibiotic resistance in human disease.  This runs counter to testimony by the FDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“This is a modest first step by the FDA,” said Slaughter, “but we’re really just looking at the tip of the iceberg. We don’t have time for the FDA to ploddingly take half-measures. We are staring at a massive public health threat in the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. We need to start acting with the swiftness and decisiveness this problem deserves.”

In a statement today the FDA said, the new rule "takes into consideration the substantial public comment FDA received on a similar order that it issued in 2008, but revoked prior to implementation."

In that time, Slaughter's office says, "increasing numbers of Americans have become ill from cephalosporin-resistant infections as increasing numbers of pathogens have become resistant to cephalosporins. In 2009, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that almost three percent of Salmonella tested was cephalosporin-resistant."

“Do the math,” said Slaughter. “With over one million Salmonella cases in the US 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?”

This class of antimicrobials is often used to treat pneumonia, skin and soft tissue infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, diabetic foot infections, and urinary tract infections, according to the FDA.

The action was taken, the agency said, "to preserve the effectiveness of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans. Prohibiting these uses is intended to reduce the risk of cephalosporin resistance in certain bacterial pathogens. 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."  

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