The FDA revealed new restrictions this week on the use of one type of antibiotics, cephalosporins, in food animals in order to help reduce the risk of resistance to these drugs in humans.
Cephalosporins are used to treat human illnesses such as pneumonia and several kinds of infections. In food animals, such as cattle, swine, chicken and turkeys, these drugs are often used for disease prevention purposes. This kind of widespread, consistent use leads bacteria to become resistant to the drugs, and that resistance can be passed along to humans.
The FDA states that the purpose of the new ban is to “preserve the effectiveness of cephalosporin drugs for treating disease in humans. Prohibiting these uses is intended to reduce the risk of cephalosporin resistance in certain bacterial pathogens.”
The FDA is not completely prohibiting using these drugs for animals, but they will no longer be administered for ‘extra-label’ (unapproved) uses, which includes preventative purposes. For example, according to one expert on superbugs, “The vast majority of the almost 9 billion broiler chickens raised in the US each year get a shot of a cephalosporin into their shells, to “reduce mortality” of newly hatched chicks. Under this order, that is an extra-label use and will be disallowed.”
This is a step in the right direction but, as the Des Moines Register points out, restrictions on this one class of antibiotics is just the tip of the iceberg of a much larger problem:
“Cephalosporins account for a very small portion of total farm use of antibiotics. About 29 million pounds of antibiotics were sold for use in food-producing animals in 2010. About 54,000 pounds of those drugs were cephalosporins.”
The FDA’s new restrictions go into effect on April 5, 2012.