Livestock antibiotic use expected to be limited

Apr 18, 2014
by DTN

— FDA ban on livestock antibiotics for growth should not seriously affect producers

The implementation of a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plan to phase out use of antibiotics in livestock for food production is not expected to have serious financial implications for U.S. livestock producers.

On Dec. 11, 2013, FDA announced implementation of the plan and asked the animal pharmaceutical industry to withdraw such drugs from production, as stated in its Guidance for Industry No. 213. In addition, FDA is requiring oversight by a veterinarian for use of antibiotics.

The changes do not have to do with antibiotic injections used to treat bacterial infections, but rather for antibiotics administered in feed for the purpose of growth, according to Ron Phillips, Vice President of Legislative and Public Affairs for the Animal Health Institute, an organization that represents companies developing and producing medicines for animal health.

Phillips explained that FDA currently has approved antibiotics with four label claims, similar to directions that come on a prescription. Those four claims are that antibiotics can be used in animals for treatment, control, prevention, or growth promotion.

The new requirements will only affect antibiotics used for growth promotion and affects all antibiotics used in feed for that reason. Animal pharmaceutical companies are being asked to withdraw claims of antibiotics used for growth promotion, as such drugs will no longer be allowed, Phillips said. The companies are also being asked to change the marketing status of antibiotics from over-the-counter to Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for drugs administered through feed or to prescription status for drugs administered through water, in order to provide for veterinary oversight or con sultation, according to the FDA website.

Similar to how humans can’t get antibiotics without a doctor-written prescription, livestock producers will be required to call a licensed veterinarian with whom they have a relationship, one who is familiar with their facility and animals. That vet will be able to sign off on a VFD antibiotic for the producer to administer in their rations.

No serious implications for producers

Although new regulations will mean some changes for livestock producers, it should not result in any serious financial implications.

One change is that with the lack of antibiotics for growth promotion, producers will be forced to use tools that make production more efficient, Phillips said. Such measures may lead to a slight loss in efficiency, by requiring producers to have more animals in order to produce the same amount of meat.

“Obviously, the change will mean a little more red tape involved with needing a veterinarian to fill out the VFD (prescription), but by ensuring a vet is involved, we hope this will also lead to more careful use of antibiotics,” he said.

DTN Livestock Analyst John Harrington agreed the production impact of the new requirements will be minimal.

“Vets still have the right and responsibility to write prescriptions when the real preservation of animal health requires it,” he said. “If there’s a danger here, it lies in unjustified inferences made by extremists who are simply against the commercial livestock business.”

The changes should not seriously damage profits for pharmaceutical companies either.

“No new antibiotics used for growth promotion have been approved in decades,” Phillips said. “They are not a significant portion of these companies’ sales.”

Phillips said the AHI did a survey in 2007 of all its members, asking them to estimate the amount of antibiotics they sold that are used for growth promotion. The total was only 13 percent, he said.

“A lot of people think it is a much larger percentage,” he said. “It is actually a very small use that will not have a big financial impact on companies.”

Antibiotic use for growth

“Using antibiotics for growth promotion is not as widespread as most people think,” Phillips said. “They are much more widely used for therapeutic treatment, prevention and control.

“The arguments over antibiotic use in food animals have been a controversy for some time,” he said. “As a result of that controversy, a lot of consumers have a misunderstanding how antibiotics are actually used.”

Phillips said the overriding fear has not been about antibiotic residue in meat, but about antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could possibly be transferred to humans.

“The scientific proof of that is really, really, thin,” he said. “The chance of that happening is infinitesimally small.”

Harrington said the excessive, unnecessary use of antibiotics for humans plays a far bigger role in the creation of dangerous, antibiotic-resistant bacteria. He said Denmark completely banned the feeding of antibiotics to livestock more than 10 years ago, but has not seen any significant reduction in resistant bacteria.

Harrington expressed his real fear: “If we don’t do more to address the real problem, there is a real danger that, several years from now, the uninformed will look at this voluntary effort by drug companies and argue that it’s not working, that regulations against the use of drugs in the livestock sector need to be tougher and permanently outlawed.

“Such a misperception could be a huge mistake, clumsily cutting livestock efficiencies and driving the cost of meat sharply higher—all for no good reason,” he said. — Cheryl Anderson, DTN