FDA’s new veterinary chief vows to eliminate ‘non-judicious’ uses of antibiotics

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Stephen Ostroff, the new deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine at the FDA, has spent much of his time since he was assigned the post in February defining his priorities. He comes into the job at a challenging time: the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is being implemented, and it comes with tough new regulations for food producers on their use of so-called “medically important” antibiotics--those that are also used to treat infectious diseases in people.

One of Ostroff’s priorities, he said in a Q&A posted by the FDA on June 3, is to clarify the role of antibiotics in the care of farm animals. “We have initiated a number of steps to reduce and ultimately eliminate non-judicious uses of medically important antimicrobial medications to enhance growth or feed efficiency in food animal production,” he said. Among those now verboten uses: feeding animals antibiotics to speed up their growth.

The FDA has been working with producers of animal antibiotics to remove language from labeling that suggests the drugs should be used for production purposes such as growth promotion.  It has also been working to transition food producers to a system that requires antibiotics to be prescribed by veterinarians.

The implementation of the FSMA also requires farmers to provide information to regulators about their use of antibiotics, and for drugmakers to contribute to that data collection process, as well. “We recently expanded sales data collection to require that sponsors of antimicrobial medications provide estimates of their sales data broken down by species of food-producing animals, in addition to overall sales,” said Ostroff, an M.D. who joined the FDA in 2013 to work primarily on public health issues.

The government’s push to limit the use of antibiotics from food production stems from its concern over the rise of “super bugs” that are resistant to treatment, but the FDA’s restrictions have garnered mixed reviews. The fast food industry has been largely supportive of limiting the use of antibiotics in food animals. Taco Bell, McDonald’s and Subway are among several restaurant chains that have vowed to phase out meat from animals raised with antibiotics. Several consumer advocacy groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, are pressuring other restaurant chains to follow suit.

But some animal health experts have expressed concerns that the limitations on antibiotics use could put animals at risk of suffering from illnesses that might have otherwise been easily controlled. Before the recent G7 conference in Japan, the trade group HealthforAnimals urged world leaders to adopt an approach of using antibiotics “as little as possible, as much as necessary” rather than promoting outright bans on the medications.

As for Ostroff, he said he believes all of the FDA’s actions are necessary. “I would hope that every American understands what it is that we do and why we do it to protect the food supply,” he said.

- here’s the FDA’s interview with Ostroff

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