Agricultural Antibiotic Drug Ban
(Beyond Pesticides, August 18, 2005) On July 28, 2005, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a precedent-setting, final decision to withdraw approval for use of Cipro-like antibiotics in poultry. According to the Keep Anibiotics Working Coalition, this action is the first time that FDA has ever withdrawn an agricultural antibiotic from the market because of concerns about antibiotic resistance affecting human health. The ban was proposed in October 2000 by the Clinton Administration, but took nearly five years to finalize because of numerous procedural delays created by Bayer Corporation, the only manufacturer of the drug, whose trade name is Baytril.
Both Baytril and Cipro are members of the fluoroquinolone class of antibiotics. FDA has shown that use of Baytril in poultry reduces the effectiveness of Cipro in treating Campylobacter, one of the most common causes of severe bacterial food poisoning. The most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that resistance to Cipro in Campylobacter in humans has risen to 21 percent as of 2002; when Cipro-like drugs were first approved for use in poultry in 1995, such resistance was negligible. Although Bayer claims that Baytril is critical for poultry production, most top poultry producers have announced that they no longer use these drugs in chickens produced for human consumption.
“We applaud Commissioner Crawford and the FDA for acting decisively to protect the public’s health,” said David Wallinga, MD, a senior scientist and director of the Antibiotic Resistance Project at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. “Cipro is an essential antibiotic and we cannot allow its effectiveness to be compromised by squandering it on poultry.”
The decision takes effect September 12, 2005, but implementation could be delayed if Bayer requests a stay from FDA or from the courts. “This proceeding has dragged on for nearly five years, during which time resistance has continued to climb,” said Karen Florini, senior attorney with Environmental Defense. “It would be simply irresponsible for Bayer to seek a stay at this point, or for FDA to grant one pending judicial review.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the US - about 25 million pounds annually - are routinely fed to poultry, swine, and beef cattle not to treat illness but rather to promote slightly faster growth and to compensate for overcrowded and unhealthy conditions in concentrated animal feeding operations. More than half of these drugs are identical or similar to antibiotics that are important in human medicine. Use of antibiotic feed additives spurs the development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our food supply and the environment.
“This is a very important decision because it is the first time FDA has cited antibiotic resistance as the reason for banning use of a drug,” said Margaret Mellon, Director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “But FDA also needs to take additional steps to address inappropriate antibiotic use in agriculture, particularly use of medically important antibiotics as feed additive uses.”
TAKE ACTION: One of the greatest threats to antibiotic effectiveness today, is the overuse of antibiotics and antibacterial cleaning agents. Triclosan, an antibacterial agent commonly used in many household and personal care products has recently received a lot of attention for its role in resistant bacteria. When used in hospitals and other health care settings, or for persons with weakened immune systems, triclosan represents an important health care and sanitary tool. Outside of these settings, it is totally unnecessary, and the constant exposure to triclosan becomes a health and environmental hazard. The best solution to preventing infections is soap and water. Make sure you read all labels when buying soaps and other toiletry products to ensure that triclosan is not included. Also be on the lookout for Microban and Irgasan, which are other names for triclosan. Consult our triclosan factsheet for a list of products containing triclosan (some, like Teva sandals and kitchen knives, may surprise you) and for more detailed information on alternatives to triclosan.