FDA issued its new guidance this week on the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The final Guidance 209  calls for voluntary suspension of non-therapeutic use of certain antibiotics in livestock production. The initiative is voluntary and eliminates certain antibiotics used to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency. These drugs would still be available to control or treat illnesses when used under the supervision of a veterinarian.
The livestock industry  had expressed a lot of concern about guidance 209 as it was first proposed  in 2010, because it would have eliminated all use of certain antibiotics and was based on very questionable science. The antibiotic issue has been a tough one, because much of the science used only animal use of antibiotics as a variable. While anti-microbial resistance has been growing, there are many factors that contribute to it .
One tactic we’ve seen employed by the environmental and anti-livestock groups is to find a valid trend, and then assign the blame on agriculture by only using agriculture contributions as the source of the problem. Colorado agriculture, for instance, came under severe attack as the result of increased nitrogen deposition in the Rocky Mountain National Park. Most of the science didn’t even consider the millions of cars spewing emissions on the front range of Colorado, but only focused on agricultural sources of nitrogen. Thus, agriculture understandably looked like the big culprit.
In a similar fashion, the use of antibiotics in animal production has been credited as being the primary issue behind anti-microbial resistance. But the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association was successful in encouraging FDA to consider human and industrial use of antibiotics as well.
Certainly the FDA guidance will result in more paperwork for producers and veterinarians, but it appears to be a far more balanced approach than what was originally proposed. The real victory was that this was a collaborative approach between FDA and the industry, rather than a formal rule-making process that potentially could have been devastating to the industry.
I don’t say there aren’t concerns with the new guidance. For instance, smaller producers likely won’t have access to many antibiotics under this rule, animal health overall will be diminished, and the cost of food to consumers – or profitability to producers – will likely move in negative directions.
Perhaps, though, the greatest indication that this was as reasonable approach as we could have hoped for was that the anti-meat activist groups expressed disappointment in FDA’s approach.