New Legislation to Monitor Antibiotics Use in Livestock

Blue_pill_container_spilled_icon.svgLast week House Representative Henry Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the Energy and Commerce committee, announced plans to introduce a new animal antibiotic use legislation.

The bill, the “Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act”, aims to increase information on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for human consumption.  It will require drug manufacturers to submit comprehensive information to the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) demonstrating the amounts and types of drugs sold for use on livestock.

“We need reliable information about the use of antibiotics in agricultural operations,” said Rep. Waxman. Currently, the drug manufacturers report only their total drug sales and don’t have to distinguish the uses for their drugs.

For the first time the bill will also require the feed mills to report to the FDA on the antibiotic types, as well as the purposes and quantities of antibiotics that are given to animals through feed.  Virtually all antibiotics administered on industrial scale farms are mixed with animal feed.

The additional information collected on animal use of antibiotics is intended to provide researchers with further insight into the epidemic of drug-resistant infections.

While this topic is still hotly contested by livestock groups and meat manufacturers, it’s a fact that 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on farm animals.  Most of antibiotics on farms – to the tune of 83% — are administered for sub-therapeutic purposes, not for treating sick animals. About 29 million pounds of antibiotics, therefore, are used to promote animal growth and prevent infections that often occur from animals confined in crowded conditions in industrial-scale farms. All of this happens without a prescription.

Many experts agree that overuse of antibiotics, many of which are critical in human disease treatment, on food animals is undoubtedly contributing to the growth of antibiotic resistant bacteria.

According to CDC data, overall antibiotic resistance in the United States costs an estimated $20 billion in healthcare costs annually, with millions more in societal costs such as loss of productivity and more than 8 million additional days that people spend in the hospital annually. The biggest problem with antibiotic resistance is that we lose effective medicines that fight diseases. In 2010, for example, CDC estimated that MRSA, a “staph” germ that does not get better with the first-line antibiotics that usually cure staph infections (a.k.a. “superbug”), alone killed nearly 11,500 Americans.

In the words of Rep. Waxman:

The more we learn, the graver the threat becomes from overuse of antibiotics by industrial-scale farms.  We need this information so scientists and Congress can stop the spread of drug-resistant infections from farm animals to humans.