The federal government, drugmakers and meat producers still don't have a clear handle on how to measure the appropriate use of antibiotics for feed animals in the fight against drug-resistant “superbugs,” according to a report from a White House advisory panel.
The report calls for the stakeholders to finalize a plan assessing the efficacy of the Food and Drug Administration's voluntary framework for phasing out the use of antibiotics in livestock.
The FDA wants to limit the use of medically important drugs for the purpose of preserving animal health and has called for veterinarian oversight to determine when such medicines are truly necessary.
But so far there has been limited progress, according to the first report from the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria.
“The president's key advisers must take a step back and address the fundamental flaws in the current plan,” Dr. David Wallinga, senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement. “Chief among these is the lack of a specific target for reducing antibiotics sales for use in livestock—without clear and ambitious goals, we are one step closer to a future where we can no longer count on our miracle drugs to work when we're at death's door.”
Critics have argued that the prophylactic use of such drugs in livestock provides a loophole that could allow meat producers to continue to use them to make livestock gain weight without having to increase their food intake. Meat producers counter that the drugs are necessary to stave off infections that can spread quickly through livestock.
The report noted some improvement in the nation's surveillance of the use of antibiotics prescribed in healthcare settings. But there has been little progress in curbing the use of antibiotics in feed animals. An estimated 62% of medicines deemed medically important for humans were sold for livestock purposes in 2014.
Concerns about antibiotic-resistant bacteria spurred the FDA to take several actions to limit antibiotic use among livestock.
By the end of this year, the FDA said in 2013, drug companies should voluntarily remove indications of growth promotion from product labels and veterinarians should supervise the use of the medications.
Last May, the FDA proposed requiring drug companies to collect data on the type of species receiving the drugs. And last June, the agency issued a final rule on its Veterinary Feed Directive, which outlines how veterinarians are supposed to authorize the use of antibiotics in livestock.
But a White House advisory panel found little consensus among regulators and the drug and livestock industries about how to establish metrics for appropriate use.
Meanwhile, sales figures show no reduction in the use of antibiotics in feed animals in spite of the mounting pressure against the practice. In a 2014 summary report the FDA cited more than 16,000 tons of antibiotics approved for use in livestock were sold and distributed in the U.S. that year, which represented a 22% increase since 2009.
Reducing the “misuse and overuse” of antibiotics in healthcare and food production was a key goal outlined in the president's “National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria” introduced last year targeting the spread of so-called superbugs such as carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) by 2020.