FDA Wimps Out

Posted on 01 July 2010

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By Tommi Avicolli-Mecca

The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) may be inching its way to an outright ban on the use of antibiotics in meat unless it’s specifically used to protect the health of the animal, but at this pace it may take forever.

This past Monday, the government agency released a proposed recommendation (open to public comment for the next 60 days) that the meat industry cease using the drugs to increase production and growth. It also suggested that veterinarians be consulted about the use of any antibiotic in the production of meat. The recommendation is expected to become official after public comment.

According to an FDA statement, “The development of resistance to this important class of drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, poses a serious public health threat.”

It’s something that scientists have known for years. Not only do these drugs get ingested by humans who consume the meat, but they also apparently produce a super-resistant bacteria that spreads from animals to humans.

It’s not a yarn by Asimov or Heinlein. “The writing is on the wall,” said Brad Spellberg, author of Rising Plague, a book about super bacteria. “We’re in an era where antibiotic resistance is out of control, and we’re running out of drugs and new drugs are not being developed. We can’t continue along the path we’re on.”

“There is a mountain of studies,” explained Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists, “linking the use of antibiotics in animals to the evolution of resistant pathogens that cause human disease.”

Mellon feels the FDA did not go far enough. “I was expecting an action plan,” she said. “I was disappointed that all we have here are principles. They’re apparently expecting voluntary action. It’s my belief that the industry’s not going to act until it has to.”

She’s right.

The meat industry is conveniently in denial. The National Pork Producers Council made that perfectly clear in its response to the FDA recommendation: “There is no scientific study linking antibiotic food use in good animals with antibiotic resistance.”

Wasn’t that once the tobacco industry’s line on cigarettes and cancer?

The truth is that there is a serious and deadly problem in our country with drug-resistant bacteria (100,000 deaths each year) that is created by the over-use of antibiotics, including by those in the meat industry looking to increase their profits by regular injections of the medicine into animals to induce weight gain.

It’s like that commercial with the doctors injecting chickens with water to make them appear bigger.

Only this is no joke.

It’s time for the FDA to stop wimping out and simply do what the European Union did four years ago: Ban antibiotics in animals.


Tommi Avicolli Mecca is co-editor of Avanti Popolo: Italians Sailing Beyond Columbus, and editor of Smash the Church, Smash the State: The Early Years of Gay Liberation, which has been nominated for both an American Library Association and a Lambda Literary award. His website is www.avicollimecca.com.