Forgive me if you don’t see me jumping for joy at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent announcement that it intends to limit the use of a specific group of antibiotics in livestock production. For while the FDA’s decision to curb the use of cephalosporins in food animal production beginning April 2012 has been hailed as positive step in the right direction, I’d say it’s more a shuffle forwards – and a very reluctant one at that. “We believe this is an imperative step in preserving the effectiveness of this class of important antimicrobials that takes into account the need to protect the health of both humans and animals,” pronounced Michael R. Taylor, the FDA’s Deputy Commissioner for Foods, in the FDA press release. Now, as regular readers of my post will already know, I am passionate about the urgent need to curb the misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming systems. So what’s my problem with the FDA’s recent actions? After all, surely this is good news?
As of January 2009, you will now be able to purchase and consume products from genetically engineered animals - without one mention of that fact on the label. Whether you welcome or dread your first GE dish, we all have one thing in common--we won't know when we eat it. Our friends at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have decided that products from genetically engineered animals will not be labeled as such. The FDA says that it will not require labeling of products from genetically engineered animals because those products are not "materially different" from conventional ones. Ironically this ruling follows a recent Consumers Union poll which found that 95% of respondents favored labeling of milk and meat from genetically engineered animals. A spokeswoman for the FDA defended its decision, stating, "...the FDA doesn't require that a pork chop label specify [the breeding method of the pig]." Translation: the FDA has decided genetic engineering is just another way to breed animals and therefore, it doesn't make the meat, eggs or dairy from those animals any different from the meat, eggs or dairy out of grandma's barnyard.
If the system is so poor that it must be propped up with off-label and subtherapeautic antibiotics, perhaps its time to revise the system? In an apparent win for pharmaceutical companies, the Food and Drug Administration has recently rescinded a proposed ban on off-label use of cephalosporin drugs in animals raised for food. According to the Wall Street Journal, this last-minute reversal came just five days before the proposed ban would take effect. Has the FDA lost its way? The official mission of the agency states, "The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by assuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs," (among other responsibilities like regulating radioactive materials). Despite significant evidence that off-label and widespread agricultural use play a major role in creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the FDA has caved under pressure from the very companies selling the drugs. This decision not to ban off-label usage begs the question: What is the point of having a label in the first place?