Evaluating an FDA ban on Use of Human-Used Antibiotics in Animals

Nathan Vanderlaan, MJLST Staffer

Over the past several years, antibiotic resistance in humans has become one of the leading health concerns in the United States. Many heads are turning towards the U.S. farming industry, and the antibiotic consumption by animals as a leading culprit. Today, about 80% of all antibiotic consumption in the United States is attributable to animal consumption. Many argue that unless the government takes stronger regulatory stances on the animal consumption of antibiotics, an inability to effectively fight a number of illnesses due to antibiotic resistance will be on the horizon.

In her article “Slowing Antibiotic Resistance by Decreasing Antibiotic Use in Animals,” Jennifer Nomura argues that the FDA should implement a total ban on the use of antibiotics in animals that are also used therapeutically in humans. Currently, the FDA has taken the position that there is no definitive proof that antibiotic use in animals leads to greater resistance in humans. As such, they intend to allow producers to continue to use antibiotics used to treat humans in farming practices until a scientific correlation between resistance and farm use is established. Nomura advocates that the FDA transition from this “wait-and-see” policy and enter the realm of stiff antibiotic regulation. She argues that the FDA is under such an obligation based on their duty to minimize risks to human health. However, this duty may suggest that the FDA should not rush into a total ban on antibiotics also used in human health.

An all-out ban on such antibiotics may in fact have a more detrimental impact on human health. The potential that a ban would lead to increased incidence of disease cannot be underscored. While Nomura suggest that disease may be kept down due to improved farming practices, the reality of creating the infrastructure to promote such practices may not be feasible for a country with such high meat production. And although several countries have been successful in making the transition from these kinds of antibiotics, their success may not be entirely indicative of the success a large country like the U.S. will have. If the incidence of disease goes up after a ban, consumers will likely suffer medically and financially, and these risks cannot impulsively be set aside.

Nonetheless, the FDA must take notice of the growing problem of antibiotic resistance. Resistance is giving rise to “super-bugs” and leading to more unpreventable deaths every year. While steps must be taken to address these growing concerns, any action taken by the FDA should not be hasty. Instead of an outright ban on all antibiotics used for humans as well, the FDA should do a full risk analysis regarding the impact giving these drugs to animals poses to humans. Then the FDA should conduct an individual analysis of the highest risk antibiotics being used, tackle these antibiotics first, and then slowly transition away from the use of certain antibiotics once it is determined such a transition will not threaten the health of humans or the nations live stock.