FDA's Animal Magnetism

  • by: |
  • 05/17/2012

As seen in The Hill

Animal health and human health are inextricably linked

The Food and Drug Administration’s long-awaited policy announcement on antibiotic use in food animals has accomplished an almost impossible Beltway feat – just about everyone’s happy about it.

The new policy aligns antibiotic use in animals and humans and eliminates the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, similar to the European ban on antibiotic growth promoters. The FDA’s new guidance requires that all medically important antibiotics used in animal agriculture be administered with the supervision of a licensed veterinarian for therapeutic purposes -- meaning disease treatment, control and prevention. Use for growth promotion will be phased out. Medicines will now be used in animal health much the same way they are by humans –to address disease and under the watchful eye of a licensed medical professional.

FDA’s action is in line with to a letter sent to the White House in July, 2009 by 20 public health advocacy groups, including the Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, the Infectious Disease Society of America and the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. The letter expressed support for “the FDA’s calls for phasing out the use of antimicrobial drugs for growth promotion and feed efficiency, and for requiring that all other uses of these drugs be carried out under the supervision of a veterinarian.”

To achieve those worthwhile goals, the FDA engaged in a consensus-building stakeholder process and, judging by the almost universal positive reaction to the FDA announcement, it was a successful endeavor.

Some claim this is an issue that should be addressed through federal legislation or legal action. However, the collaborative, stakeholder process proved to be superior in at least two ways:

First, it achieved the desired outcome faster. The FDA discussed the various issues at length during the process. Second, the action avoided unintended consequences. Legislative bans on antibiotic growth promotion uses in Europe resulted in increased animal death and disease. While the transatlantic outcomes are the same – eliminating antibiotic growth promoters – the FDA’s collaborative provided for a smooth and savvy transition.

The bottom line is that FDA has begun to implement significant public health change in the most practical way possible. Animal health is inextricably linked to human health. This FDA action minimizes antibiotic use in food animals, maintains the tools necessary to protect animal health and, most importantly, enhances the protection of human health.

Pitts, a former FDA Associate Commissioner, is President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest and a member of the Animal Health Institute’s Board of Scientific Advisors


Center for Medicine in the Public Interest is a nonprofit, non-partisan organization promoting innovative solutions that advance medical progress, reduce health disparities, extend life and make health care more affordable, preventive and patient-centered. CMPI also provides the public, policymakers and the media a reliable source of independent scientific analysis on issues ranging from personalized medicine, food and drug safety, health care reform and comparative effectiveness.

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