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Avinash Kar’s Blog

Bipartisan bill would improve reporting of information about antibiotic use in animal feed

Avinash Kar

Posted May 8, 2013 in Health and the Environment

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Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Susan Collins (R-ME) today took the lead on a critical public health issue by introducing the Antimicrobial Data Collection Act. The Act would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to report more of the information it already collects about antibiotics used in animal feed to the public.

Antibiotic misuse and overuse in livestock is contributing to a public health crisis of antibiotic resistance, which is putting the effectiveness of some our most important medicines at risk. The CDC has said that there is “strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans.” Antibiotic resistant infections can last longer, and can lead to more hospitalizations, the use of medicines with greater side effects, and even death if treatments fail. NRDC went to court in 2011 to force FDA to take action to address the public health threat and won—twice. The FDA has appealed those court decisions, and we are awaiting a decision on appeal.

There is already a remarkable level of agreement on the need to stop the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics on animals, i.e. use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick and don’t need them. Medical groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, public health groups such as the American Public Health Association, and scientific groups such as the American Society for Microbiology all agree that such use must stop to protect public health. But we need better information about how the antibiotics are being used at factory farms to better understand trends, target solutions, and evaluate the success of efforts to curtail misuse. We therefore urge the Senate to pass this bill quickly.

FDA already collects information on antibiotic use in livestock but it discloses only the coarsest form of that data to the public—simply the total amount of various classes of antibiotics used in livestock. This information is important, but FDA should be doing better. Much of the data that it collects, FDA does not disclose to the public. Information that FDA does not disclose includes how the antibiotics sold are administered (i.e. in food or water or by injection) and marketed (i.e. whether it’s sold over-the-counter, prescription, etc.) and how important they are for human medicine. The Antimicrobial Data Collection Act would require FDA to disclose this information to the public.

The bill would also require FDA to come up with a pilot data collection and analysis program to analyze antibiotic resistance trends and address data gaps, and to speed up its process on its (very flawed) proposed voluntary guidance. We have pointed out the flaws of the policy to FDA, and urged FDA to move quickly to address these concerns and to impose mandatory restrictions to truly address the public health crisis of antibiotic resistance.

The Senate Health Committee had an opportunity to take action to improve reporting of antibiotic use in animal feed earlier this year, but failed to do so. Senators Gillibrand and Feinstein took up the cause and pressed the Committee to improve reporting by FDA. Senators Feinstein and Collins are long-standing leaders on addressing antibiotic use in livestock. Today, the three Senators join forces to continue their leadership with this important step to help address the problem of antibiotic resistance, which is putting life-saving medicines at risk. We applaud them for introducing the bill and addressing the need for greater transparency from FDA and for better information to address the problem.

Representatives Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY) introduced a similar bill earlier this year in the House, the Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals Act of 2013.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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