After 35 years of urging farmers and ranchers to curb their use of antibiotics as growth inducers in animals, the FDA has announced a new collaboration with drug companies, vets, and livestock producers to limit the practice.
Some farmers and ranchers routinely give antibiotics to livestock in small doses so that the animals grow larger. But as the FDA warns, administering drugs that way can cause the spread of harmful strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that affect humans as well as animals. The New York Times reports that every year at least 2 million people grow sick and 99,000 people die from resistant strains.
Stephen McDonnell, founder and CEO of Applegate, a natural and organic cheese company, expressed skepticism about how much impact the FDA’s recent move will have. He pointed out that the government organization has made a strong recommendation against the use of growth-inducing antibiotics, rather than banning the practice outright. “The FDA’s recommendations use the word ‘should,’ but we all know that stopping the negligent use of antibiotics in animal agriculture is a ‘must,’ in order to save these important drugs to battle infections,” he said. The FDA’s deputy commissioner for food, Michael Taylor, told NPR’s The Salt that asking for voluntary collaboration will be more effective than requiring livestock producers to comply, because an attempt to defend a ban of hundreds of specific drugs in court would require “decades of effort, and millions and millions of dollars of resources.”