Header graphic for print

Food Safety News

Breaking news for everyone's consumption

Rep. Waxman Seeks Legislation to Improve Reporting for Antibiotics in Agriculture

California Congressman Henry Waxman, a Democrat serving as Ranking Member on the Energy and Commerce Committee, on Tuesday announced he’s introducing legislation that would improve the data that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration collects on antibiotics used in animal agriculture, a practice that is increasingly under the microscope.

Waxman announced his bill – the “Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act” – in Santa Monica with a handful of chefs, Dr. Brad Spelberg of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and Jean Halloran of Consumers Union.

“We need reliable information about the use of antibiotics in agricultural operations,” said Rep. Waxman. “The more we learn, the graver the threat becomes from overuse of antibiotics by industrial-scale farms.  We need this information so scientists and Congress can stop the spread of drug-resistant infections from farm animals to humans.”

Waxman’s proposal would require drug makers to report more comprehensive information to FDA regarding how their drugs are used on farms. Recent estimates have indicated that the vast majority of antibiotics sold in the United States are given to food animals. Many of those antibiotics are important to human medicine and there is broad scientific consensus that overusing these drugs promotes antibiotic resistance, which is a growing public health threat.

Currently, drug makers only report their total sales, but don’t have to distinguish which species the drugs are intended for or indicate what portion were used exclusively for food animals. The legislation would for the first time require feed mills, where many farmers are able to buy antimicrobial drugs in bulk, to report data to FDA. According to Waxman’s office, “The bill will require feed mills to submit data to FDA on the types, purposes, and quantities of antibiotics being given to animals through feed.”

According to a breakdown of the legislation provided by Consumers Union, which is strongly supporting the proposal, the bill would only require reporting for drugs given to food-producing animals – excluding pets and horses – and would only apply to antibiotics that are considered important for human medicine. Perhaps most importantly, the law would require feed mills to report on what the antibiotics are used for, whether it be growth promotion or disease prevention, control or treatment.

Over the summer, FDA said it was considering adding similar reporting to the requirements under the Animal Drug User Fee Amendments of 2008. In a Federal Register notice, the agency noted that “collecting data on antimicrobial drugs used in food-producing animals will assist FDA in tracking antimicrobial use trends and examining how such trends may relate to antimicrobial resistance.”

The congressman’s effort follows his colleague Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who has repeatedly introduced the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that has more than 100 cosponsors in the House, but has not gained the traction needed to advance in Congress. The legislation would phase in a ban on the use of medically important antibiotics on healthy food-producing animals, while containing to allow their use on the treatment of sick animals.

Meanwhile, antibiotic resistant pathogens remain a problem for the meat and poultry products that Americans consume every day. For the most recent report from the federal government on antibiotic resistant pathogens on food products, see: New Data on Antimicrobial Resistance a Mixed Bag.

© Food Safety News
  • Kermit

    Seems like a good idea to have feed mills record and report who gets antibiotics in feed.

    Rep. Waxman wrongly assumes those terrible evil nasty diabolical “industrial-scale farms” solely are the maniacal evil-doers. You will crap your pants when records are made available and you learn how dependent smaller farms are on medicated feeds. It’s gonna be a long list! Then there will be a raucous screaming and wailing from “small farmers” for exemption from scrutiny because, as we all are supposed to believe, “one size doesn’t fit all” and lifestyle farmers are so, so very special, indeed. It will be just fine for “local” foods to skip any reporting, right? I mean, as long as you trust your farmer if they are medicating without telling you, well that’s their prerogative, right? The little guys never screw up, do they?

    I say have it Mr. Waxman. But do the whole job — don’t play political favorites with this. Insure your reporting includes every heroic little Tom, Dick and Sally hobby farmer who trades with any feed company or internet wholesale house anywhere. No reason to exclude pets or horses, either. That’s just a pre-fab loophole, isn’t it?

  • doc raymond

    While I certainly do not think it would be a bad thing to have more information about how antibiotics are used in animals, animals raised for food and companion animals, I do not think it will make my life any safer from antibiotic resistant pathogens. We already know, from a simple look at the FDA’s web site listing antibiotics sold for use in animals in 2010, that 45% of the total  are antibiotics like the Ionophore class that have never been used in human medicine and that another 41.5% fall into the tetracycline class, a class of antibiotics from the stone age of human medicine and never used as a first line drug now that I am aware of (maybe for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, but only if you are over 8 years of age). In contrast, the Cephalosporin class of antibiotics, which is critical in human medicine, comprised only 0.2% of all antibiotics sold for use in animals. Other important drugs in human health, like Ciprofloxin, are banned by the FDA for us in poulty, or like Vancomycin and Methicillin, are banned from any use in animal health. The FDA has done their job well. More data would help show that. PAMTA would create a disaster in animal health and well-being.

    • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

      Doc Raymond has been rebutted several times, but he continues to shrug off the overuse of subtherapeutic antibiotics in livestock. Never to my knowledge has he acknowledged “class-resistance” or any aspect of the microbiology of resistance.

      Thankfully, the major human medical associations support PAMTA’s passage. This includes the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems, American Public Health Association, and a list that goes on and on and on. None of this seems to faze “doc” raymond and his keyboard commentary.

      • Keene Observer

         Watch the baseless ad hominem attacks, youngster. You are sounding like some of the angry old women you’ve idolized. That makes you the irrelevant one, “mr” bulger with your keyboard sophistry.

        • Jann

          this must mean that the Keening Observer’s  long list of (his) own mean-spirited ad hominem attacks are somehow OK… what a projectionist

      • doc raymond

        Michael, the doses used for prevention, control and as growth promotion are not “subtherapeutic’. They are doses that are lower than a full therapeutic regime to treat infection, but they are therapeutic for what they are intended to do and for what the FDA has given approval for. At least use the correct language in the discussion. EvenFDA says “subtheraeutic” is not an accurate term. And why are you so worried if only 3% of antibiotics used in animals are also used in humans that do not have a better first choice?
        I am not sure why the parenthesis around “Doc”. I have been a dues paying member of both the AMA and APHA, but that does not mean I support their unfounded opposition.

        • http://twitter.com/MichaelBulger Michael Bulger

          Even ignoring the issue of class-resistance (as you have to focus instead on “subtherapeutic”), how does 3% reassure you? Are you saying that 3% is below your threshold for caring and why bother with cephalosporins? 

          Class-resistance is a whole other issue. Feel free to address it here.

          In the meantime, it is foolish to believe that drug-resistance doesn’t result from antibiotic use in livestock. A while back, FSN ran a story on a study that used genetic mapping to show that drug-resistant staph acquired its R+ in livestock. (http://www.foodsafetynews.com/2012/02/drug-resistant-staph-linked-to-animal-antibiotics/).

          And just to hammer in the point, I offer this quote from USA Today that I happened across: “We think the science is very solid in showing that largely indiscriminate use of antibiotics contributes to resistance,” said FDA Deputy Commissioner MichaeI Taylor. “I don’t think there’s really any question about it.”Finally, I’m sorry if I questioned your credentials without merit. Some bastion of intellectual understanding on your part must appreciate that you reside in a small minority on this issue and are standing outside of the scientific consensus.

          • doc raymond

            Your link to FSN does not work. Are you quoting that re;ort from the Pew Foundation about Staph on our meat? Hope not, cause that was ridiculous at best. Because of your innocent youth, you may not know that Penicillin was discovered in 1943. By 1950 50% of Staph isolates were resistant to Penicillin and it was not even approved for animal use at that time. One year after the discovery of Methicillin, the first case of MRSA was reported and methicillin was not approved for use in animals.  My friend Mike Taylor is correct, but you did not include his thoughts that most of the indiscriminate use of antibiotics come from the human side of medicine. Quotes taken out of context to try and support a view reminds me too much of the presidential debates (let me guess, you are pro-Obama?) so I think I will step away from this kind of biased discussion based more on animal welfare than human health and safety.

          • May

            But even though Docs are sworn to “do no harm” in health care for humans – the fact remains that indiscriminate use of antibiotics (with many demonstrated negative health effects) is legion — and really, Doctor business as usual.

            So just maybe there’s some Doc bias in this discussion justifying an industrialized system that is 100% dependent on antibiotics and other drugs that are NEEDED to keep closely confined livestock and poultry alive and gaining market weight in stressful, deplorable conditions — all in support of (agri) business as usual.

  • S Hurd

    Agreeing with Doc Raymond again.  You might be interested in my article in FDLI news where I discuss the minimal value of data on one side of the equation,  http://www.fdli.org/docs/members-only/finalhurdforum.pdf?sfvrsn=2

    also  www.scotthurd.blogspot.com