Critics say White House plan to combat antibiotic resistance falls 'woefully short'

The Obama Administration rolled out its 5-year plan to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria on Thursday, and it was met with widespread disdain from critics who say it doesn't do enough to prevent livestock producers from using the drugs in ways that endanger both animal and human health.

The White House plan has 5 main components. They include improving international collaborations around detecting and reporting antibiotic resistance, as well as encouraging the development of diagnostic tests to help doctors distinguish between bacterial diseases and other illnesses that don't require antibiotics. The plan also suggests improving prescribing practices and eliminating the use of "medically important" antibiotics to promote the growth of farm animals.

Critics include the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental lobbying group in New York, which blasted the president's plan for failing to curb the use of antibiotics in everyday livestock care. "The plan continues to allow the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals that live in the crowded conditions endemic to industrial farms," the NRDC said in a statement. "Our government should be taking steps to reduce antibiotics to protect our health, rather than protecting poor industry practices."

The plan, which the president has proposed spending $1.2 billion to implement, is part of a multipronged government effort to halt the rise of the drug-resistant bacteria that cause an estimated 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S. every year. In January, a new FDA rule went into effect giving veterinarians the power to decide when antibiotics should be prescribed to farm animals. The rule was meant to prevent farmers from being able to buy the drugs over-the-counter and use them to fatten up their animals.

Whether the FDA rule will actually promote real reforms in the livestock industry is a matter of debate. Just a couple of weeks ago, the agency released a report revealing that milk samples surveyed from 2,000 farms found residue from 11 drugs, including the antibiotic florfenicol. None of the drugs found in the milk are FDA-approved for lactating dairy cows.

Now some legislators are calling for even tougher policies, including U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who has sponsored a bill to stop the routine use of antibiotics on farms. "With 80 percent of the antibiotics produced in the United States being used in agriculture mostly for prevention, any meaningful solution to the looming antibiotic resistance crisis must begin with limits on the farm--and trusting a voluntary policy that lets industry police itself will not bring about real change," Slaughter said in a statement.

Slaughter said the Obama administration fell "woefully short" of doing anything meaningful to keep antibiotics out of healthy food animals.

- read the White House blog item here
- here's the NRDC's press release
- access Slaughter's statement here
- get more at the Associated Press