Resistance is futile

by Jay Sjerven
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White House forum focuses on judicious use of antibiotics and a shift in federal food purchasing efforts.

The White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship drew more than 150 food companies, retailers and human and animal health stakeholders to Washington on June 2 to affirm commitments to implement changes over the next five years to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections. The forum was the latest effort in the Obama administration’s ongoing campaign to combat antibiotic resistance.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated drug-resistant bacteria cause 2 million human illnesses that result in about 23,000 deaths each year in the United States.

With regard to the food industry, the administration’s efforts have focused on ending the use of medically important antibiotics (those antibiotics important to human health) by the poultry and livestock industries and bringing the overall use of antibiotics in animal production under veterinary oversight.

At the forum, companies such as McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Wal-Mart, Foster Farms, Tyson Foods and Smithfield Foods highlighted their initiatives aimed at phasing out use of medically important antibiotics by specified target dates. For instance, Tyson Foods said it would eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics from its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by September 2017.

John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told forum participants that cafeterias in federal facilities will phase in purchasing strategies giving preference to meat and poultry products produced “according to responsible antibiotic-use policies.” Mr. Holdren also said the Presidential Food Service, which operates the White House cafeteria and serves the president and his family, was committed to serving meat and poultry that has not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.

The Food and Drug Administration’s final rule governing the role of veterinarians in prescribing antibiotics for food animals was issued on June 2 and was discussed at the forum. The rule will bring the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals under veterinary supervision so they are used only when necessary for assuring animal health. Until recently, farmers were free to buy many antibiotics with little or no veterinary oversight.

Wal-Mart’s representative at the forum iterated the company’s pledge made in May to ask its meat suppliers to follow guidelines set by the American Veterinary Medical Association under the final rule, including veterinary oversight and limiting antibiotic treatment to animals that are sick. Wal-Mart asked its suppliers to publicly report their annual antibiotic use.

Ashley Peterson, senior vice-president of scientific and regulatory affairs, National Chicken Council, after attending the forum, commented, “Chicken producers share the concern and desire to preserve antibiotic effectiveness in both human and animal medicine…Responsible, F.D.A.-approved veterinary treat-
ment and prevention benefits animal welfare and health by reducing the need for increased doses of shared-class antibiotics in the event of widespread disease.

“The vast majority of the antibiotics that we use are never used in human medicine,” Dr. Peterson said. “The majority are from a class called ionophores, which are used in animals only and are critically important to chicken producers to maintain the gut health of our birds. Our industry supports F.D.A. Guidance 209 and 213, and we recognize the responsibility of the industry to implement the recommendations to phase out the use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion.

“All of our member companies are already eliminating their use for growth promotion, and most are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance. We also support F.D.A.’s Veterinary Feed Directive (V.F.D.), finalized today, as veterinary oversight is important to continued success. Today, all chicken farms are under a health program designed by a licensed veterinarian.”

Dr. Peterson noted approximately one-third of broiler chicken companies produce chicken raised without antibiotics and/or organic chicken products.

“Many of our members have already made or are making stewardship commitments,” she said. “We believe this trend will continue.”

Kathy Simmons and Mike Apley represented the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association at the White House forum. Philip Ellis, a Chugwater, Wyo., cattleman and president of the N.C.B.A., said their participation was a great opportunity to highlight what the cattle industry is doing to support the judicious use of antibiotics.

“The N.C.B.A. takes our commitment for antimicrobial stewardship very seriously and seeks to educate our members, consumers, regulators, legislators and the general public on the merits of appropriate antimicrobial drug use within the diversified sectors of the beef industry,” he said.

Mr. Ellis said the N.C.B.A. would review the F.D.A.’s final rule for the Veterinary Feed Directive.

“Our policy supports ensuring that producers have access to the technologies needed to maintain a safe and healthy herd, as herd health is critical to our top priority, ensuring a safe food supply,” Mr. Ellis said. “N.C.B.A. will continue to work with F.D.A. and our membership to support the implementation of F.D.A. Guidance 209/213 to bring the medically-important antibiotics used in feed and water under veterinary oversight and to eliminate the use of these drugs for feed efficiency and growth promotion by December 2016.”

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