FDA Hints at Antibiotic Regulation

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is hinting that it might seek to regulate the agricultural use of antibiotics. While the agency did not directly threaten to regulate antibiotic use, the three-year timeline they gave farmers to review the use of antibiotics strongly hints that they might decide to eventually expand their control over agricultural medicine.

After decades of debate and pressure by food safety groups, the federal government appears to be taking the first tentative steps to regulate the agricultural use of antibiotics. A controversial topic, antibiotic use in farming has been widely condemned by safety groups and many doctors. While the judicious use of antibiotics is crucial is treating illnesses in animal herds, the non-medical use of powerful drugs can have dangerous side effects.

In the past several years, doctors and health care professionals have seen a disturbing rise in the instances of drug-resistant illnesses. A recent study showed that about 25 percent of Midwestern supermarket meat contained drug-resistant bacteria, a rise attributed to the overuse of antibiotics.

The recent FDA announcement asks farmers to be judicious in their use of antibiotics and asks them to voluntarily cease using them for non-medical purposes (adding them to animal feed to bulk up livestock, for example). While some farmers are already claiming that this request represents government over-regulation, messages within the FDA’s request could hint at a future expansion of the agency’s power.

The FDA is giving the agricultural industry three years to implement these new requests. After that three-year period, the agency will review further data and decide on future steps, if necessary, leading many experts to believe that they will push for mandated restrictions of farmers do not voluntarily change their practices.

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Written by: Justin Ellison / Farm Plus Staff Writer