Questions raised over US antibiotic investment

By Sophie Witts

- Last updated on GMT

The NRDC said there was no indication the money would enforce a strict reduction in drug usage
The NRDC said there was no indication the money would enforce a strict reduction in drug usage

Related tags: Antibiotic resistance, Bacteria

The Obama Administration’s proposed $1.2bn investment in combating antibiotic resistant bacteria has come under fire from the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) for failing to adequately address antibiotic misuse in the livestock industry.

In a blog post from Jonathan Kaplan, director of the food and agriculture program, at the NRDC, said that despite a near doubling in funding there was no sign that the money would be used to enforce a significant reduction in drug usage or pressure the livestock industry to report its antibiotic use.

Kaplan wrote: "Antibiotic use information is currently held secret by livestock companies, leaving regulators, scientists and the public in the dark about specific use practices, trends, risk hot spots or success stories. FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) tracks the volumes of drugs sold, but does not collect the data needed to track and understand drug use within the industry."

Approximately 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock. Over-use of the drugs by humans and livestock causes some bacteria to survive and multiply, resulting in a spread of bacteria resistant to key antibiotics used in medicines.

A White House statement claimed the funding would improve antibiotic stewardship by "strengthening education programmes for medical professionals, veterinary professionals, food-animal producers and members of the public". 

It continued: "FDA will continue to support the phasing out of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, and accelerate the evaluation of new antibacterial drugs and diagnostics for antibiotic-resistant organisms."

However, according to Kaplan, the Obama Administration’s announcement does little to address the loophole in existing FDA policy, where drug manufacturers who have voluntarily agreed to stop selling antibiotics for growth promotion can sell the same drugs under the guise of treating animal diseases.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that each year at least two million illnesses and 23,000 deaths are caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the United States alone.

Kaplan added: "Until we have meaningful requirements to reduce the livestock use of antibiotics, and a comprehensive system for tracking antibiotic use, I fear the microbes will remain on the winning side."

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