Because of the persistent pressure put on the FDA by many public health experts, consumer advocacy groups, and informed citizens, the FDA recently announced its decision to place a partial ban on the indiscriminate use of cephalosporins in farm animals.
Cephalosporins are a group of broad spectrum, semi-synthetic beta-lactam antibiotics, similar to penicillins.
But public health advocates say the FDA’s proposed partial ban on cephalosporins would do little to combat the overall rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs such as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).
Avinash Kar, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, points out that cephalosporins make up just a fraction of 1 percent of total antibiotic use in livestock — and only a fraction of these drugs are used in ways that would be prohibited if the FDA rule goes into effect as planned this April.
According to the Huffington Post, Kar even suggested the agency’s announcement was “meant to distract attention from its effort to sweep the broader issue under the rug.”
Well known food writer Tom Philpott claims the use of cephalosporins in livestock is already on the decline as treatment with tetracyclines and penicillins steadily rises.
“Between 2009 and 2010, use of cephalosporins in food-producing animals dropped by 41 percent; use of penicillins and tetracycline meanwhile rose by 43 percent and 21 percent, respectively.”
According to a researcher at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, approximately 80 percent of antibiotic drugs in the United States were sold for use in food animals. Antibiotic are used on factory farms to promote faster animal growth.
Antibiotics are also regularly used as an insurance policy to prevent animals from becoming sick on huge factory farms with diseases such as Salmonella or E. coli, even when there’s no threat or presence of infection. Broiler and turkey chicks get injected with antibiotics before they’re even hatched.
The powerful corporate-owned factory farming industry has regularly dismissed warnings to discontinue the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.
Members of the food animal industry continue to refute the need for antibiotic regulation. “The impression out there of our use of antibiotics at low levels is pretty overstated,” said Michael Apley, a professor at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
“There is no conclusive scientific evidence indicating the judicious use of antibiotics in cattle leads to antimicrobial resistance in humans,” Mary Geiger, spokeswoman for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, said in a statement.
And yet in a letter to Congress, CDC Director Thomas R. Frieden wrote that there is “compelling evidence of a clear link between antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.”
Tom Chiller, a CDC medical director, said scientists have documented studies and data that show when you use antibiotics in animals, it creates resistant bacteria. Studies also show that the resistant bacteria survive on retail meats consumers buy.
Russell Kremer, president of the Missouri Pork Producers Association between 1985-86, and a one time big promoter of antibiotic livestock therapy, now speaks about the dangers of antibiotic resistance.
“Over time, we have created some monster bugs,” said Kremer. “It is truly harmful to everyone to feed antibiotics to animals just for growth promotion and economic gain.”
Europeans banned the use of antibiotics in livestock 7 years ago except to treat illness, and even the World Health Organization has linked resistant and killer bacteria to the regular and unnecessary use of antibiotics in industrial farming.
The decision to restrict cephalosporins comes after the FDA’s recent rejection of a proposed hearing made way back in 1977 to consider removing penicillin and tetracycline from animal feed.
Imagine the horror of watching on helplessly while a loved one dies from an antibiotic-resistant superbug that refuses to respond to one antibiotic after another, even as industry insiders insist with cavalier indifference that there is no evidence linking the regular use of antibiotics in poultry, pork and beef to antibiotic resistance in humans — all for the sake of protecting profits.
The antibiotic-resistant staph infection known as MRSA — methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — kills more Americans than AIDS, and is widespread in the U.S. pig herd. The Center for Disease Control reported 94,360 “invasive MRSA infections” in the United States in 2005 — of which 18,650 resulted in death.