Long drug controversy is food for thought

"Ban on antibiotics in animal feed imminent" reads the headline of a news brief I wrote back in April 1985.

I suppose from a geological perspective, a period of 25 years reflects some degree of imminence, but in political terms, it's several lifetimes.

The issue of antibiotics and livestock came up again as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced its plan to curb the use of cephalosporin in animal agriculture. The move was applauded by the American Medical Association.

"The American Medical Association supports the FDA's decision to prohibit the use of cephalosporin in food animal production for general disease prevention," AMA President Dr. Peter Carmel said in a news release. "By taking this step, physicians can continue to have this class of antibiotics available to successfully fight bacterial meningitis and other serious infections."

My 1985 article quoted the then-director of the FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (who was quoting a publication called FDA Consumer) Dr. Lester Crawford as saying "I think it is probably time to go ahead and act." He added that it would probably take up to three years to effectively ban the use of tetracycline and penicillin in animal feed.

A 1980 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association notes that the FDA had been trying since 1977 to restrict the use of antibiotics in livestock feed.

The fact that this is still an issue and the practice of feeding cattle, pigs and chickens antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease still goes on can only mean that agribusiness has more political clout than physicians. (So maybe doctors should form an alliance with farmers to get rid of the sustainable growth rate Medicare payment formula?)

Oh, and where was my article from 1985 published? That would be in Vegetarian Times magazine, my first "real" job after college. Before you cast any aspersions, let me tell you that it was a national publication with a circulation between 75,000 and 175,000 depending on the cycle of short-term subscribers who latched on for a trial run while filling out their Publishers Clearinghouse sweepstakes form. (I'm not making that up.)

We also explored issues such as the use of growth hormones in the dairy industry and the connections between diet and disease years before the "mainstream media" picked up these topics.

It was fun looking through some old issues online, particularly the November 1985 edition. It featured such nostalgic subjects as "Malpractice changing the way MDs operate" and a look at Dr. Marcia Angel’s New England Journal of Medicine report on "Medical costs inflated by unneeded procedures."

Glad to see those issues have been settled.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.