Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Thursday to ban the extra-label use of certain antibiotics in food animal production that are of critical importance in human medicine.

In a letter to FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, Rep. Slaughter urged the agency to finalize a stalled rule to ban extra-label use of cephalosporin, a class of antibiotics that make up less than 1 percent of antibiotic use in animal agriculture. Approximately 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to animals.
Last month a coalition of 21 public health and consumer groups — including Union for Concerned Scientists, the American Medical Association, and the Sierra Club — sent a letter to FDA with a similar message. 

After announcing a withdrawal order for extra-label use of cephalosporins in food animals in July 2008, the rule was withdrawn the following November and has not been reissued.

“It has now been almost three years since FDA determined that extra-label cephalosporins as currently used in food producing animals creates a public health risk,” writes Slaughter, the sole microbiologist serving in Congress, in her letter.

“While the FDA delays taking action, people continue to become ill from cephalosporin resistant infections. Given the critical importance of the cephalosporin class of drugs to human medicine, we ask that you quickly reissue the prohibition on the extra-label use of cephalosporins in food producing animals.”

Slaughter also pointed to news this month that the first antibiotic-resistant case of gonorrhea has been identified as one reason to preserve the effectiveness of cephalosporins. The class of antibiotics have been the most effective treatment of gonorrhea, the second most prevalent STD worldwide.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the bacterial infection is becoming less susceptible to cephalasporins, and that development is worrisome. “The emergence of cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea would significantly complicate our ability to treat gonorrhea successfully, since we have few antibiotic options left that are simple, well-studied, and highly effective,” says CDC.

“This new strain is likely to transform a common and once easily treatable infection into a global threat to public health,” caution the researchers who discovered the new multidrug-resistant superbug in a statement.

Updated to reflect Rep. Slaughter represents a district in New York, not California. Article also originally incorrectly stated that approximately 80 percent of antibiotics are fed to animals.