Critics blast Obama for failing to prevent antibiotic use in livestock

The Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB) convened a meeting Wednesday in Washington, DC, to discuss its progress on a strategy to combat antibiotics resistance that includes reducing the use of the drugs in livestock production. The group released a one-year progress report in advance of the meeting--but the accomplishments it laid out didn't do much to appease the many critics who say President Barack Obama isn't doing enough to stop the routine use of antibiotics in food production.

Dr. David Wallinga, senior health officer, health program at NRDC

"Where's the beef?" asked Dr. David Wallinga, senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in a press release. "One year later, the President's action plan still fails to deliver on reducing use of human antibiotics in livestock. The President's key advisers must take a step back and address the fundamental flaws in the current plan."

One of the key goals of the PACCARB is to foster the judicious use of antibiotics in food animals and to discourage use of the drugs for nonmedical purposes, such as growth promotion. The one-year progress report notes that veterinary curricula have been revised to include antibiotics stewardship, and that educational outreach to food producers has occurred, but that "their impacts on antibiotic use and, more importantly, on antibiotic resistance have not been assessed."

The release goes on to say that the FDA has revised its Veterinary Feed Directive to give veterinarians oversight in the use of antibiotics in food production. Still, says the PACCARB report, more should be done to support that effort, including the development of diagnostics to help veterinarians distinguish between bacterial infections that need to be treated with antibiotics and other illnesses.

The FDA has also given the makers of animal antibiotics until the end of this year to stop marketing the drugs as growth promoters. But that directive is voluntary, and in January, the agency reported that the labels on only three products had changed to include the need for veterinary oversight, and just one label was revised so it no longer suggests the drug is a growth-enhancing product. In December, the FDA reported that sales of medically important antibiotics to the food industry rose 23% in the last 5 years.

Meanwhile, food producers are under increasing pressure from more than just federal agencies to reduce their reliance on antibiotics. Several fast-food chains have switched to antibiotic-free meat, and in October, California passed the strictest law yet banning the use of the drugs for growth promotion.

Wallinga suggests that the PACCARB set "meaningful targets" for reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock. The advisory council, he says, should start by taking a step back to evaluate the elements of the antibiotics-stewardship plan that aren't working. He points out that in the Netherlands, antibiotic use in food production continued even after a ban was put in place. Then the country set a specific reduction target and implemented an outright ban on antibiotics for preventing disease. Only then did use of the drugs start to fall, he says.

"What's at stake is a future where antibiotics may still work when we, or our loved ones, most need them," Wallinga writes.

- here's the NRDC's press release
- access a draft of the PACCARB's report here