White House releases antibiotics plan, but critics are dissatisfied
March 27, 2015
The White House today released its plan to combat antibiotic resistant bacteria, including a reduction in the use of antibiotics in farm animals, but critics said the effort is not tough enough.
There is growing concern that overuse of antibiotics is making them less effective in fighting human disease.
An estimated 23,000 people die and 2 million fall ill each year from antibiotic-resistant infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
"Judicious use of antibiotics in healthcare and agricultural settings is essential to slow the emergence of resistance and extend the useful lifetime of effective antibiotics," the report says.
"Antibiotics are a precious resource, and preserving their usefulness will require cooperation and engagement by healthcare providers, healthcare leaders, pharmaceutical companies, veterinarians, the agricultural industry, and patients . Effective dissemination of information to the public is critical."
An administration official told reporters early today that the Agriculture Department would engage in efforts categorized as stewardship, surveillance and research.
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USDA does not yet have information to set targets for reductions in antibiotic use in agriculture, the official said. USDA will gather that data but does not yet have a date to set those targets.
The official noted that pharmaceutical companies are removing labels that say antibiotics can be used for growth promotion, and that once the labels are removed "it is illegal to use for it growth promotion. If they are used and there isn't a disease prevention or control component people will be held legally liable for that."
House Rules Committee ranking member Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y, the only microbiologist in Congress, said, "Once again, the administration has fallen woefully short of taking meaningful action to curb the overuse of antibiotics in healthy food animals."
"With 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States being used in agriculture mostly for prevention, any meaningful solution to the looming antibiotic resistance crisis must begin with limits on the farm — and trusting a voluntary policy that lets industry police itself will not bring about real change," Slaughter said.
"Antibiotics were never meant for prevention of disease – they were meant for treatment of disease," she said. "Using them at sub-therapeutic levels for prevention has just made bacteria stronger and is rendering antibiotics ineffective."
"The U.S. is already a decade behind European nations in combating antibiotic resistance, and it will become a major trade issue when our foreign counterparts stop accepting U.S. meat raised with medically-important antibiotics. When the World Health Organization says that routine infections like strep throat may be fatal in 10 years, it's long past time to start taking decisive action. I encourage the public to support my bill to save eight classes of antibiotics from being routinely and unnecessarily fed to healthy farm animals, and to demand better from their leaders than a head-in-the-sand approach."
Earlier this week Slaughter re-introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA).
"Ultimately the National Action Plan is a missed opportunity to take more aggressive action," Food & Water Watch said.
"That is why we need federal legislation like the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act that would end the overuse of medically important antibiotics in livestock production. This is what it will take to combat this public health crisis."
The Keep Antibiotics Working Coalition said, "Once again the Obama administration has missed an opportunity to strengthen its response to the urgent public health crisis of antibiotic resistance."
"Instead of addressing gaps in existing efforts, the plan's drafters adopt wholeheartedly the pharmaceutical industry line that removing growth promotion claims under FDA's Guidance for Industry #213 will solve all problems with overuse on farms," the coalition said.
"This stance ignores clear evidence that the use of medically important antibiotics for routine disease prevention creates a public health risk that is identical to those posed by routine use for growth promotion. Drug makers regularly exploit this loophole by advertising the growth benefits that can result from using antibiotics for disease prevention and FDA has failed to crack down on this practice."
The coalition added, "The plan also fails to set any targets for reductions in antibiotic use in food animals. This means that the only measure of success will be whether or not companies remove growth claims from the labels – even if on-farm antibiotic use continues to rise."
–The Hagstrom Report