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Do drugs in livestock endanger people?

Federal agencies looking at the issue of antibiotics in livestock need to focus their efforts, work faster and back up any recommendations with better research, congressional investigators said.
/ Source: Reuters

Federal agencies looking at the issue of antibiotics in livestock need to focus their efforts, work faster and back up any recommendations with better research, congressional investigators said Monday.

Antibiotics make livestock such as cattle and chickens grow better and are commonly fed to them at low levels. This effect is above and beyond anything that can be accounted for by preventing disease.

But studies have shown the practice can aid the development of drug-resistant “superbugs” -- especially when antibiotics similar to those used to treat humans are given to animals.

Research on human risks needed
The issue is highly controversial and many farmers are resisting efforts to reduce their use of antibiotics.

The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, said federal agencies will need to be careful to support any actions with facts.

“Although federal agencies have made some progress in monitoring antibiotic resistance, they lack important data on antibiotic use in animals to support research on human health risks,” the GAO report reads.

“These data, such as the type and quantity of antibiotics and purpose for their use by species, are needed to determine the linkages between antibiotic use in animals and emerging resistant bacteria.”

The Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and U.S. Department of Agriculture are all watching out for any signs that more antibiotic resistant bacteria are emerging.

“In addition, FDA has taken administrative action to prohibit the use of a fluroquinolone (a common antibiotic) in poultry,” the GAO said.

The FDA has identified which animal drugs are also critically important for human health, and is working on ways to determine which drugs should be dropped from use in livestock. But this could take some time, the GAO said.

It recommended that the FDA work faster, and said USDA and Health and Human Services, the parent department of the CDC and FDA, come up with a joint plan for getting evidence more quickly.