WASHINGTON — With the backing of the Obama administration, a new measure introduced in the House of Representatives seeks to ban some
uses of antibiotics for food animals because they are considered too important for human health.
The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) opposes the bill, known as the "Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical
Treatment Act of 2009."
"We're concerned with the broad brush ban on antibiotics," says Dr. Ashley Shelton, assistant director of the AVMA Governmental
Relations Division (GRD). "We're obviously concerned with the increase in animal disease and death a broad brush ban of antibiotics
would mean, which is an unfortunate consequence of this bill."
The topic of antimicrobial use spurred hours of discussion at the recently concluded AVMA meeting with no real answers. Neither
government nor agriculture is waiting around for an opinion.
The bill, introduced in March by Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., cites several findings to support the proposed regulations,
including those from a 2001 federal interagency task force that say "antibiotic resistance is a growing menace to all people
and poses a serious threat to public health" and "if current trends continue, treatments for common infections will become
increasingly limited and expensive, and, in some cases, nonexistent."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) agree.
But Shelton cautions saying that the same language has been used every year for the past several years in an effort to ban
Joshua Sharfstein, MD, a principal deputy commissioner with the FDA, testified before the House Rules Committee in July that
the agency supports phasing out growth promotion/feed efficiency uses of antimicrobials in animals. The agency also wants
to give veterinarians more control over uses of antibiotics on the farm.
"FDA recommends that any proposed legislation facilitate the timely removal of non-judicious uses of anti-microbial drugs
in food-producing animals," Sharfstein wrote in submitted testimony. "At the same time, FDA believes that legislation should
permit the judicious use of antimicrobials in animals for prevention and control."
The CDC gathers data through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System for Enteric Bacteria (NARMS) and distributes
it to the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service, says Lola Russell, of the CDC.
While no new data have necessarily come to light, the CDC is in agreement with Sharfstein and the FDA, she says.
No veterinarians were asked to testify at this hearing.
Nonetheless, the AVMA House of Delegates did take up the issue at its annual meeting in Seattle. The body voted to form a
task force to take a look at the issue and have a report no later than next year's annual conference.
Meanwhile, the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of County and
City Health Officials and the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture all have supported legislation to phase out non-therapeutic
uses of antimicrobials in farm animals, according to the proposed bill.
Dr. Gatz Ridell, executive vice-president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners (AABP), says the proposed ban
is just the latest of many attempts to try to remove antimicrobials without a scientific basis.
"This is probably the fifth or sixth year that a similar bill has been introduced, or at least discussed, on the legislative
agenda," Ridell says. "This year, it's because the PEW Commission is pushing its agenda on anti-farm legislation."
Ridell and Shelton noted that the fact that the issue was heard by the Rules Committee is unusual, as it would normally be
taken up by the Agriculture Committee.
"The members of the panel that presented did not represent any facet of agriculture nor any significant scientific entity,"
He attests that the bill makes presumptions that are not scientific.
"We have not studied this complex issue to the point where we can say any use negatively impacts public health," he says.