New legislation, if passed, may stop preventative antibiotic use in herds


SALEM, Ohio — A federal bill under consideration could eliminate producers’ use of preventive antibiotics and stop them from being available over the counter.

Bill introduced

U.S. Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter, D-NY, introduced H.B. 1549 in March. There is also a sister bill in the Senate, but testimony has not moved forward on it.

Representatives heard testimony July 13 on H.B. 1549, which would amend the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to ban the use of antibiotics in animals unless used to directly treat a disease. It would end the use of antibiotics for “non-therapeutic” reasons.

The intent of the legislation, according to proponents, is to decrease the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

Reason for legislation

Although new human antibiotic products are under development, it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop antibiotic drugs that are able to combat the more-resistant bacteria.

Scientists are looking at all solutions, which triggered the concern over the use of antibiotics in the food supply.

Many livestock producers use antibiotics in water or feed for growth promotion, and to prevent disease from breaking out among herds.

Hearing held

The committee hearing on H.B. 1549 is considered an unusual step by many agricultural groups, but signals to many that the issue is gaining interest. The legislation could become part of some other legislation such as health care reform or the food safety bill, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

The committee hearing exists primarily to govern the length and terms of floor debate on bills, not to hear testimony on the specifics of legislation. But in this case it did hear testimony.

The witness list for those against the legislation was short. No one against the bill was able to testify at the hearing and a veterinarian was also not given the opportunity to testify, according to the National Pork Producers Council.

U.S. Rep. Leonard Boswell, D-Iowa, was the only witness who testified in opposition to the bill.

European influence

H.B. 1549 emulates a law passed in 2005 in Europe that bans the use of growth-promoting antibiotics. Sweden banned their use in 1986 and Denmark followed in 1998.

Christine Hoang, assistant director in the scientific division of the American Veterinary Medical Association, said if H.B. 1549 or similar legislation is passed, it would hurt producers and animals.

“This would stop veterinarians from using their tools to protect animals and the safety of the food supply,” Hoang said.

If producers can’t use preventive antibiotics, Hoang said, animals would be susceptible to more disease among the herd and possibly even a higher death rate increasing the cost for the producer.

Regulation needed

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, deputy commissioner for the Food and Drugs Administration, stated in his testimony the FDA supports the phasing out of growth promotants and feed efficiency use of antibiotics in animals.

However, the FDA believes that legislation should permit the use of antimicrobial in animals for the prevention and control of disease but only with the direct supervision of a veterinarian, and sales of over-the-counter antibiotics could be eliminated.

This essentially means that a producer of any type, large or small, could no longer stop at feed store or other farm store and pick up antibiotics to treat their animals. Producers would have to get the antibiotics from veterinarians.

The legislation, if passed as it stands now, would allow the treatment of disease in animals as long a veterinarian is used.

Strong opposition

Opposing the bill, the National Pork Producers Council said the legislation would essentially take a producer’s ability to use many of the antibiotic drugs already on the market.

Jennifer Greiner, director of science and technology for the National Pork Producers Council and a veterinarian, said the bill calls for all “critical antimicrobial animal drugs” to go through a second U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval process within two years of enactment of the legislation.

Currently to win approval, an animal drug maker must demonstrate that a product is effective and safe for animals and for the environment. The FDA also must determine that new antibiotics for food animals will not harm human health.

The process would be given two years to be completed, but is expected to take much longer than that.

“”They just can’t get it (testing and approval from FDA) done in two years,” said Greiner.

She added it’s a back-handed way of banning the antibiotics, because if they are not completed in that timetable, they are banned from use.

The Coalition for Animal Health, which includes the Ohio Farm Bureau and 13 producer-oriented groups, also oppose the legislation.

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