Eli Lilly, Zoetis among stakeholders signing on to White House antibiotics plan

President Barack Obama

More than 150 food companies and animal- and human-health stakeholders publicized their efforts to combat antibiotic resistance Tuesday at a White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. During the event, which was part of a multifaceted plan to reduce the use of antibiotics in food animals, President Obama signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to establish guidelines on responsible antibiotics use for meat and poultry producers.

The White House announced it had received an "outpouring of private sector commitment and leadership," which included formal plans presented by such animal health giants as Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Elanco unit, Merck ($MRK), and Zoetis ($ZTS).

"Major stakeholders have already taken action or are committing to voluntarily phase out the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion, only accepting product from suppliers that have stopped the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion, or funding research for alternatives and instituting a company-wide policy to eliminate all medically-important antibiotics by a target date," a statement from the White House said.

Also on Tuesday, the FDA released its final rule on the use of antibiotics in food animals, the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), which outlines the process by which veterinarians should prescribe the drugs and "provides veterinarians in all states with a framework for authorizing the use of medically important antimicrobials in feed when needed for specific animal health purposes," according to a press release from the agency.

Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine, said in a blog item that 25 companies affected by the new rule had agreed to work with the FDA to implement the new directive, which includes removing language from labels that promotes the use of antibiotics for enhancing food production. "What will this mean in practice? Once these changes are fully implemented, it will be illegal to use these medically important antibiotics for production purposes, period," he wrote.

During the White House event, Elanco President Jeff Simmons participated in a panel discussion, during which he outlined the company's 8-step plan to combat concerns about antibiotic resistance. The steps include eliminating over-the-counter sales of so-called shared-class antibiotics--those that are used in both human and animal health--in places where veterinary oversight to prescribe the drugs exists. Elanco also committed to invest two-thirds of its research budget for food animals towards evaluating 25 nonantibiotic drug candidates to treat diseases where there are few drug alternatives.

Elanco vowed to hold a summit one year from now to discuss its progress, but the company stopped short of committing to any timelines for developing nonantibiotic products or eliminating antibiotics from its product line. "Setting timelines without solutions could be dangerous, compromising animal welfare," the company said in a statement. "Policies that require complete elimination of all antibiotics in animal production aren't right for the animal and they aren't right for the consumer either. We must take a pragmatic approach that doesn't put animals at risk."

Elanco's announcement comes just weeks after the company got in trouble with the FDA over its marketing of Denagard (tiamulin hydrogen fumarate) plus CTC (chlortetracycline hydrochloride), an antibiotic-infused feed product for pigs. The agency sent the company a warning letter citing several examples of promotional materials suggesting the product enhances weight gain. Elanco said it is taking action to remove the promotional materials from circulation.

Still, the animal health industry remains under attack from some public health advocacy groups that believe companies aren't doing enough to eliminate the use of antibiotics for fattening up food animals. Among the critics is the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, which said in March that the White House plan still allows for the routine feeding of antibiotics to food animals and doesn't do enough to alleviate the over-crowding of livestock and poultry on farms.

The Animal Health Institute (AHI), an advocacy group for veterinary products makers, expressed support for the White House plan in a statement and said it would work with its members to ensure "judicious" use of antibiotics.

Richard Carnevale, vice president of regulatory, scientific, and international affairs at AHI said in a video posted online earlier this year that the animal health industry was committed to combating antibiotic resistance. "There has been criticism, obviously, from public health advocacy groups in the past on antibiotic use in animals," said "We are aligning with those groups in carrying out the policy FDA is proposing." Carnevale added that the public perception that antibiotics have only been used to promote growth in food animals is "simply not true."

During Tuesday's event, the White House lauded several food companies for their leadership in implementing new policies on antibiotics, including Foster Farms and Tyson Foods, both of which have vowed to eliminate the use of antibiotics that are important to human health.

- get more on the White House forum here
- here's the press release from Lilly's Elanco
- access the statement from the Animal Health Institute here
- watch the video from the Animal Health Institute
- here's the press release and blog entry from the FDA on its final antibiotics guidance