On June 28, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a draft Guidance to Industry document for the use of antibiotics in farm animals. It’s the first time in over 30 years the FDA—the agency charged with regulating drugs in the U.S.—appears to be taking steps to limit the use of important antibiotics in food animal production. Good news? Sadly, the draft guidance contains only two recommendations, both so weakly worded they would allow the agricultural industry to carry on just as it is has. Even more distressing, once the document is finalized, it only represents the FDA’s current thinking on the topic; it doesn’t carry any regulatory power whatsoever. In what appears to be a saving grace, the guidance summarizes many reports dating back to 1968 showing the link between antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance. In fact the best part of 10 of the 19 pages is used to demonstrate this very point. In fact the FDA press release announcing the release of this guidance states “that the overall weight of evidence available to date supports the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes (i.e., non-therapeutic or sub-therapeutic uses) in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.” However, the rest of the world has already acknowledged this link and has acted to reduce the very real risk of indiscriminate antibiotic use in the livestock industry. In the U.S. we have listened to Big Ag, allowed the powerful agricultural and pharmaceutical lobbies to have their way, and continued to put tons of antibiotics into farm animal feed and water. There are estimates that as much as 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are used to promote growth in farm animals, not to treat animals that are sick or ailing.
According to LancasterOnline.com’s Mary Beth Schweigert, lack of oversight in National Organic Program has created a “chasm between consumer expectations and actual industry practices.” Ms. Schweigert notes the challenges that the NOP, now in its twelfth year, faces in terms of its dual mission to protect agriculture while simultaneously protecting the consumer.
The NOP has drawn significant criticism on its lax pasture requirements – 80,000 public comments to be exact. However, even adequate standards are only as good as the enforcement behind them. Schweigert reports a startlingly low number of citations in the first seven years of the program – only $20,000 for three fraudulent operators in a $23 billion U.S. organic food industry.
National Organic Coalition (an industry watchdog group) policy coordinator Liana Hoodes responded to this issue, explaining that strong national organic regulations are worthless without consistent oversight and enforcement. She added, “It will either clean up its act or get surpassed by many other labels.”