Thirteen senators from both sides of the aisle wrote to U.S. Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg this week asking the agency to collect more data on antibiotics used in food animal production.

As FDA has noted before, the agency does not have detailed data about veterinary drug usage. Antibiotics sales are reported to FDA, but the agency does not collect any data on which species are treated and what percentage of the drugs are used for disease prevention, growth promotion or therapeutic treatment.

Without this data, it’s nearly impossible to accurately track whether the industry is reducing its usage of medically important antibiotics — which scientists and public health advocates have long argued would help combat antibiotic resistance.

“This is of great concern to us, and we urge the agency to design a system with relevant agencies and stakeholders for gathering and analyzing necessary information to assess the effectiveness of the new policies,” read the letter, which was signed by Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Susan Collins (R-ME). “Should you find any critical gaps in your statutory authority, we would welcome the opportunity to work with you to provide additional authorities and resources.”

The senators commended FDA for asking drug companies to revise their antibiotic labels to eliminate “growth promotion” uses and for increasing veterinary oversight over the use of antibiotics in livestock. But they also expressed concern about the “considerable ambiguity” regarding the agency’s policies.

The guidance documents consider the use of antibiotics for “disease prevention” as a judicious use of the drugs. “If broadly defined, ‘disease prevention’ could allow the continued use of antibiotics in ways not consistent with FDA’s vision for ‘judicious use,'” continued the letter. “This could include inappropriate and ineffective practices that merrily mask underlying production problems such as poor hygiene or animal overcrowding.”

The letter was also signed by Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), John Kerry (D-MA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR).

  • federal microbiologist

    Glad to see that political pressure continues to be placed on the FDA to restrict the bulk use of antibiotics for growth promotion.
    It’s also important to remember that practitioners of Industrial Food Animal Production – owners, staff, and associated production medicine veterinarians – use bulk applications of antibiotics to ensure that animals housed in CAFOs reach market weight (or birth an economically rewarding quantity of offspring) prior to dying from infectious diseases acquired from the combination of being reared in crowded, unhygienic conditions.
    Large scale applications of subtherapeutic doses of antibiotics are also important in dealing with infections associated with deliberate woundings (such as those ensuing from male piglets having their testicles yanked out with unsterilized pliers).
    Note that, despite the assurances of production medicine veterinarians, the use of antibiotics in these cases is NOT to ‘heal’ the animal, or even to ‘maintain animal health’, but to keep the animal alive, and gaining body mass, until it has reached market weight.
    Accordingly, emphasis needs to be placed on implementing restrictions on the use of bulk quantities of antibiotics to remedy the effects of poor animal husbandry (a phenomenon intrinsic to IFAP).
    [Or, as so many production medicine vets say, ‘modern food animal production’.]