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White House Forum Addresses Future of Antibiotics in Livestock Production

White-House-Forum-Antibiotic-ResistanceMore than 150 food companies, retailers, and human and animal health stakeholders gathered at the White House on Tuesday for a forum on Antibiotic Stewardship. Combating antibiotic resistance is a priority for the Obama Administration. Amy Pope, National Security Council Deputy Assistant to the President, says that in the past several months the Administration has taken action on this priority. During the Forum, the President signed a memorandum directing Federal departments and agencies to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic use. The Presidential Food Service is also committing to serving meats and poultry that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.

Separately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will announce that it has finalized changes to the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulation, an important piece of FDA’s overall strategy to promote the judicious use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals as it facilitates bringing the feed-use of such antibiotics under the oversight of licensed veterinarians.

Dr. Cathie Wotecki, U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Scientist, says USDA has set a goal of encouraging responsible use of antibiotics in livestock production to protect the future of human health and animal health, “We are taking a one health approach because both humans and animals share the same environment.” USDA believes the Forum is an important step in the right direction to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Jeff Simmons
Jeff Simmons

A number of animal health companies were part of the forum, including Indiana-based Elanco Co. whose President, Jeff Simmons, announced an 8 point research program aimed at protecting animal health and developing new tools for producers. “In the next few decades, demand for animal protein will climb 60 percent as population increases and the global middle class expands by three billion people. These numbers are important, because we’re already overusing the Earth’s resources, consuming about 1.5 times the natural resources we should use in a year. Delivering safe, sufficient, affordable protein to feed the growing population has never been at greater risk,” Simmons told the Forum. He also pointed out that protecting the health of animals is an important part of this effort, “The welfare of animals we rely upon to provide protein is also at risk. Today, we have emerging diseases on every continent, including the extreme of avian influenza right here in the United States. Beyond that – nearly 3 in 4 cattle experience symptoms of respiratory disease at some point in their life, and 1 in 6 dairy cattle experience mastitis in their productive life. It is our industry’s responsibility to keep animals healthy and treat the ones that get sick while safeguarding antibiotics for future generations through responsible use.”  He warned about moving too fast with regulations on antibiotic use in livestock production, “It is important that we don’t enact regulations or policies that move faster than available science, which could jeopardize animal health as well as food safety and food security.”

The Animal Health Institute issued a statement supportive of the White House Forum, but with a cautionary note, “Like doctors who treat humans, veterinarians have a moral obligation to help prevent and treat disease in animals.  Therefore, it is essential for veterinarians to continue to have a broad range of animal medicines available as tools to treat and prevent diseases and control outbreaks.”  AHI said they supported the FDA regulations that are set to go into effect in 2016, “When fully implemented, this policy means that medically important antibiotics will be used in food animals only to fight disease under the supervision of a veterinarian.”

At the Forum, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association stressed how their Beef Quality Assurance program was helping to address this issue. “A significant part of the Beef Quality Assurance program involves antimicrobial stewardship training on the appropriate use and administration of these technologies. BQA stresses the need for good stewardship including: honoring withdrawal times, prevention of environmental contamination, the need for good record-keeping and a strong veterinarian-client-patient relationship,” NCBA Chief Veterinarian, Dr. Kathy Simmons.

Yet, some consumer activist groups continue to call for a total ban on antibiotics. “Our government leaders at all levels should close this problematic loophole that allows industry to misuse our precious life-saving drugs at the expense of our health,” said Mae Wu, health attorney at NRDC, in a statement that was released Tuesday.