Group Calls on FDA to Protect Public Health by Regulating Antibiotic Use at Factory Farms

Media Contacts
Kirstie Pecci

MASSPIRG Education Fund

Stoneham, MA — Consumer advocates released a new white paper today that called upon the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to issue stronger rules that ban the use of antibiotics on factory farms when animals are not sick.

“Loopholes in FDA rules on animal antibiotics use are big enough to fit an entire factory farm through,” stated Kirstie Pecci, Stop Antibiotics Overuse Campaign Director with the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) Education Fund.    The white paper, entitled Weak Medicine:  The FDA’s New Guidelines Will Do Little to Curb Antibiotic Resistance and Protect Public Health, finds that guidelines issued by FDA last year lack the restrictions necessary to fully combat the increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria documented by world health experts.

Dozens of consumer advocates also joined report authors in delivering almost 14,000 petitions from citizens across the northeast to the FDA to implement recommendations of the report.

 Liz St. John, a Worcester resident who suffered from reoccurring infections that did not respond to antibiotics, described the pain and suffering that she and her family experienced. “The infection was vicious and extremely painful,” she said, “but one of the worst things was that my daughter was afraid she was going to lose me. I think it really affected her.”

Antibiotics, a pillar of modern medicine are losing their effectiveness due to the emergence of ‘superbugs,’ bacteria that are resistant to one or more classes of drugs.  A phenomenon fueled by untargeted and widespread use, experts point to the overuse of antibiotics on factory farms as a major contributor to the problem.

More than 70 percent of antibiotics in classes used in human medicine are sold for use in food animals, typically to increase the speed at which animals gain weight or to prevent disease caused by unhealthy and unsanitary conditions. This use fuels the creation of resistant bacteria that can spread off farms via food, animal to human contact, and animal waste that enters the environment.

FDA guidelines issued in 2013 ask pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily remove labels from antibiotics that authorize the drugs to be fed to animals to make them grow faster with less feed.  As described in the new white paper, however, according to the Animal Health Institute, only 10 to 15 percent of antibiotics are currently purchased under this label.

Furthermore, all classes of antibiotic that can be fed to livestock to promote growth can also be fed to prevent diseases for chickens, cows and pigs. Therefore, in many cases factory farms may continue feeding these antibiotics to livestock – even if they had previously been used for growth promotion – simply by claiming that the drugs are for disease prevention purposes.

“Current FDA guidelines are unlikely to slow the spread of superbugs spreading from farms that abuse antibiotics,” said Pecci. “We don’t give antibiotics to people who aren’t sick, so why should we give them to animals that aren’t sick?  Without stronger action, we will be unable to preserve this precious public health resource for generations to come.”