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Antibiotics and agriculture.

Byline: The Register-Guard

It's no secret that antibiotics in meat pose a serious threat to public health. The Food and Drug Administration finally acknowledged that reality in 2010, years after experts began warning that extensive use of antibiotics in livestock has resulted in the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria.

But acknowledgment of a scientific reality and regulatory action are two different matters. That's especially true in the case of antibiotics and agriculture, with the nation's powerful livestock industry long insisting that the drugs are essential for keeping animals free of infectious diseases and promoting growth and weight gain while using less feed.

But calls for limiting animal antibiotics have grown stronger as evidence mounts that the drugs are endangering human health - and as consumers have become increasingly aware of the issue and have begun demanding antibiotic-free meat.

Federal drug regulators Wednesday announced new rules requiring farmers and ranchers to restrict their use of a critical class of antibiotics known as cephalosporins in cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

Doctors prescribe the same drugs, under brands such as Cefzil and Keflex, to treat humans for conditions ranging from strep throat and bronchitis to skin infections and urinary tract infections. The antibiotics are also used in surgical procedures to prevent bacterial infections and are particularly valuable for treating children for salmonella poisoning.

Industry groups oppose the new limits, arguing that cephalosporins are used more sparingly in livestock than other antibiotics and that a veterinarian's prescription is required for their use. That may be true, but the FDA is right to act to protect an important class of antibiotics for humans, especially while it remains effective against a broad spectrum of bacteria, including some that are life-threatening.

It's a welcome first step by the FDA toward limiting use of antibiotics by livestock producers. But more needs to be done. The agency proposed rules in 2010 to slow the use of penicillin, tetracycline and other antibiotics that are used to promote growth or prevent disease in feed animals, yet those rules have yet to finalized.

The FDA should continue to strengthen its regulations on the use of antibiotics, and especially limit the routine use of drugs in animals that are not sick. The industry may find it cost effective to use antibiotics preventively or to promote growth, but their overuse diminishes the efficacy of critical medications.

An estimated 70,000 Americans already die each year from infections that once were treatable with common medications that have been rendered ineffective. The European Union already has banned the use of antibiotics in livestock except to treat illness, but the regulatory effort has just begun in this country.

It should continue. Without delay.
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Title Annotation:Editorials
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 6, 2012
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