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Limiting antibiotic use in farm animals will help reduce antibiotic resistance

January 10, 2012
  • By Mary Pickett, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

About the Author

photo of Mary Pickett, MD

Mary Pickett, MD, Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Mary Pickett, M.D., is is a Lecturer for Harvard Medical School and a Senior Medical Editor for Harvard Health Publishing. She is also an associate professor at Oregon Health & Science University where she is a … See Full Bio
View all posts by Mary Pickett, MD


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Richard Carnevale VMD
January 11, 2012

Dr. Pickett, I appreciate your concern for antibiotic resistance. As a veterinarian I too am concerned about this problem. However, I respectfully would like to correct some inaccuracies in your blog. First of all, FDA did not state that the approved uses of the drug present a “serious health threat.” Secondly, there is not “widespread use” of cephalosporins in animals. These drugs are never used in feed only through IM or subcutaneous injection by or on the order of a licensed veterinarian. Less than .2% of the total animal antibiotic sales reported to FDA are from cephalosporins. Third, FDA is in fact restricting some extra label treatment uses of the drug such as using higher than labeled doses or different routes of administration so it affects more than just prevention. And, fourth, this is not the first step in limiting the use of antibiotics in animals. FDA has a long history of regulating animal antibiotic use which starts with a rigorous drug approval process that requires a risk assessment to determine potential human medical impacts from resistance. In 2005 FDA withdrew the use of fluoroquinolones in chickens due to concerns for selection of resistance in Campylobacter jejuni. No new antibiotic is approved except under a veterinary prescription and no antibiotic has been approved as a growth promoter for more than 25 years.

Pig Veterinarian
January 11, 2012

Unlike Dr. Pickett, as a food animal veteriarian I do more than hope antibiotics will work – I do the correct diagnostic tests, including sensitivity testing for antibiotic resistance, so that I pick the correct antibiotics. Dr. Pickett also doesn’t seem to realize that farm animals today are raised in modern facilities that are designed to protect animal health including cleaning and disinfection prior to each group. Farmers I work with say that fewer antibiotics are used now than when they raised pigs outdoors, and in a much more strategic manner. Additionally, cephalosporins are very important to animal health as well. They were NEVER used in feed to promote growth and have always required a veterinary perscrption. The additional restrictions placed on their use by FDA will allow us to use them for treatment of sick animals according to labeled dose and route of administration.

January 11, 2012

So what I do t understand is do all the FDA rules apply to every state? I assume being federal it does but it seems I should stay in the safe side and just buy food and consume products that are sold locally if possible. Thank you for your post.

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