When the public roars loud enough, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) starts to listen. As more and more infectious diseases build up resistance to antibiotics, the FDA scrambles to address consumer demand for antibiotic-free meat. In an effort to “phase out” the use of antibiotics in meat, the FDA is asking drug companies to voluntarily stop labeling human-approved antibiotics as acceptable for use in animals bred for consumption.
Antibiotics in Meat
As it stands, beef, pork, and poultry manufacturers can treat animals raised for meat with antibiotics to promote health and faster growth. As a result, antibiotics used to combat a broad range of human infections are no longer effective. Due to overuse and overexposure, once powerful antibiotics like penicillin and tetracycline are rendered obsolete by bacteria that have mutated into more resistant strains. In September 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an estimated 23,000 annual deaths from drug-resistant infections. Children are especially susceptible, since they are limited in the number of antibiotics safe for use.
The FDA Takes Note
With antibiotic-resistance on the rise it was only a matter of time before the FDA was forced to respond. Rather than mandating that drug companies remove the label that declares human-approved antibiotics acceptable for growth promotion in animals, the FDA is merely asking drug companies to do so. So far, two large pharmaceutical companies have indicated compliance: Zoetis and Elanco. Should the drug companies come on board, human-used antibiotics like penicillin will, in effect, become illegal for use in animals raised for meat, thus curtailing antibiotic-resistance to a certain degree. It’s important to note that while it would no longer be legal for food manufacturers to use these antibiotics for growth enhancement, these drugs could technically still be used to treat sick animals raised for meat.
According to Michael Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, asking the pharmaceutical companies to comply rather than forcing them to speeds the process along and avoids the red tape involved with a mandate that could take years to implement. Others, like democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, a microbiologist, disagree, believing that the FDA’s decision to ask rather than mandate “falls woefully short of what is needed to address a public health crisis.”
Stick with Antibiotic-free Meat
Your safest bet is to stick with antibiotic- and hormone-free meat. Look for the “USDA-certified organic” label to ensure that the meat you eat hasn’t been tainted with hormones. To find antibiotic-free farms near you, visit www.eatwellguide.org.