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Lawmakers Question U.S. Position on Antibiotic Use in Livestock
USAgNet - 12/10/2018

A delegation of U.S. government officials is poised to begin meetings in South Korea next week to hash out international guidelines for countering the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals. But the draft is already causing an uproar because it appears to be weaker than current U.S. policy, which allows such drugs to prevent or treat diseases in livestock but not for growth promotion.

On Friday, four U.S. senators and one House member, all of them Democrats, raised concerns about the draft in a letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, whose employees are participating in the negotiations, reports Bloomberg.

"We urge you to ensure that the U.S. opposes the use of medically important antibiotics in animals for growth promotion without exception when this committee meets next week," says the letter, which is signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein, Elizabeth Warren, Richard Blumenthal and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representative Rosa DeLauro.

The U.S. is leading the antibiotics working group at Codex Alimentarius, an international commission that seeks to protect consumers and fair trade by adopting food standards, codes of practice and other guidelines. The Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance is meeting in Korea starting Dec. 10.

The draft of the group’s nonbinding recommendations includes what critics describe as a loophole to allow “medically important” antibiotics to be used on livestock for growth promotion -- a practice now banned by the Food and Drug Administration, Bloomberg reports.

Both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA say that such antibiotics shouldn’t be used for growth promotion. In a Dec. 3 letter to an advocacy group, William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, acknowledged that the wording of the draft had “created some confusion and uncertainty around the concept that medically important antimicrobials should not be used for growth promotion.”

Flynn wrote that his agency supports “efforts to eliminate such uses worldwide.” The FDA didn’t respond to requests to make Flynn available for an interview.

Overuse of antibiotics in animals and humans has caused the medicines to lose effectiveness, prompting calls to curb non-essential uses. The extent that antibiotic use in farm animals affects human health remains open to debate, as does how best to address the problem of overuse.

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