FDA Bans Antibiotics for Fattening Livestock

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration acted this week to ban antibiotics for fattening livestock. Over a period of three years, the FDA is asking manufacturers of antiobiotics for livestock to change their labeling to effectively make it illegal to use them for the purpose of fattening livestock. FDA says that the companies that make these products have already agreed to comply.

Reactions to this move have been largely positive, with a few voices expressing concerns. Former FDA Commissioner David Kessler has long been critical of FDA’s track record on this issue. Regarding the current action, he says:

This is the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years. No one should underestimate how big a lift this has been in changing widespread and long entrenched industry practices.

Representative Louise Slaughter, a Democrat from New York, remains skeptical. She notes that a similar move in Europe had no effect on antibiotic use in livestock until regulators took the next step and banned their use for disease prevention in livestock, too.

The stakes are high for livestock producers because these practices provide a cheap way to produce more pounds of meat per animal. Critics say it promotes meat production under unhealthy conditions.

The primary impetus to curb antibiotics in meat production is the acute problem of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic resistant infections strike more than two million Americans every year and kill about 23,000.

But another effect will be to reduce concerns about the impact of antibiotics in the food supply. One of the concerns is that low-residue antibiotics in the food supply may be altering the human microbiome and promoting obesity. So far, these concerns amount to interesting theories that have been difficult to prove or disprove. FDA’s action this week will reduce this concern.

Antibiotics are valuable tools that have been misused for too long. FDA is acting wisely to start fixing the problem.

Click here to read more about FDA’s action in the New York Times and here to read more about the practice in livestock production. Click here, here, and here to read more about the links between antibiotic misuse and obesity.

Chicken, photograph © StevenW / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “FDA Bans Antibiotics for Fattening Livestock”

  1. December 13, 2013 at 6:25 am, hank frier said:

    This certainly is a step forward but there are two issues that have not been addressed.

    1. How is the FDA going to actually regulate the practice. Unless investigators are out in the field this ban has few teeth.

    2. More importantly is the way we bring our animals to market. These large feedlot practices, especially for cattle, is wrong headed. We feed these ruminants corn and soybean, a practice which is not natural to the animal. They should be grass fed – that is what ruminants are designed for.

    When you take animals and put them in a feedlot where they are crammed together, standing in their own feces, feeding them an unnatural diet and adding the insult of antibiotics to contain diseases and add fat to the animal that is the problem.

    We need to change the way we view our animals for food and move away from the concept of factory production. This goes for our poultry, pork and beef industries.

  2. December 13, 2013 at 10:34 am, Great News said:

    This is great news and I agree with above comment about implementation and control. It is amazing to see the FDA take such a bold stand as they have been so permissive if not supportive of GMO taking over our food chain.