Government Reduces Antibiotic Use in Farm Animals

March 29, 2012

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In 1977, the FDA decided that it was dangerous to systematically treat farm animals with antibiotics because their widespread use in farm animals would reduce their effectiveness in humans.  Some steps were taken to enforce the 1977 law such as an FDA recommendation in 2010 that farmers seek the advice of a veterinarian before using antibiotics on their animals.  Despite these efforts and the knowledge of risk, though, antibiotics are still used routinely by farmers.  A recent ruling was made by federal court judge Theodore Katz, that takes a step toward outlawing widely used antibiotics in animal feed.

A hearing will be held at which drug companies must prove that the use of their antibiotics in farm animals is safe.  If they cannot prove the safety of their drug, the FDA will issue a withdrawal order that will restrict farmers providing their animals with feed containing antibiotics.

The issue is quite controversial.  Farmers and drug companies argue that the drugs, such as penicillin and tetracycline, are necessary to keep their animals healthy and they contribute to a more successful farm.  Many farm animals are housed in crowded, unsanitary feed lots where disease can spread quickly.  Administering routine antibiotics would certainly reduce the likelihood of spreading disease.  The risk, however, is that the widespread use of antibiotics allows resistant bacteria to proliferate.  The more we use antibiotics, the more resistant harmful bacteria will become because they can adapt.  For example, if penicillin kills a certain bacteria in cattle, a few resistant bacteria may survive.  These resistant bacteria will reproduce, passing on their antibiotic-resistance traits.  There is a possibility of creating a superbug, a bacteria that we do not have a medicine to kill. 

 This ruling may pose changes for the farming industry in the United States, but it will also help ensure public safety.  To engage more with this issue, you can stay tuned during Public Health Week at UNH from April 2nd-6th.  The film Contagion, featuring Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, which is about a diesase outbreak of a resistant bacteria, will be shown in MUB Theater 2 on Tuesday (4:30-6:30pm), Thursday (1-3pm) and Friday (2-4pm).  Students can attend for free.  For more Public Health Week events see the schedule on the Healthy UNH website.

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