One of the most disturbing images in Food Inc. was the part when they simulated the growth cycle of a chicken. According to their projections, which were backed by the Food and Drug Administration, chickens grew to full weight in a mere 44 days instead of the normal three month pattern.

After the tremendous amounts of outcry and damning films like Food Inc., the FDA announced that its giving the food industry three years to voluntarily stop using antibiotics to make food-animals grow faster. Can you hear the food industry shaking in their platinum stirrups? Right … I don’t either.

It’s speculated that the FDA enacted this policy to save themselves from the backlash created by the new drug-resistant superbugs, which threaten human health.

According to WebMD, Thirty-five years ago, the FDA issued a formal finding that use of antibiotics should be banned. Consumer groups sued and petitioned the FDA to act on this finding. In December 2011 the FDA withdrew the finding.

Incongruously, The National Pork Producers Council said Wednesday that the FDA “did not provide compelling evidence” that antibiotic use in livestock is unsafe. I’m not sure what planet these people come from but the only reason we have such widespread use of antibiotics is because Congress censured the FDA’s findings in 1977.

Meanwhile, consumer advocates and environmental organizations lambasted the notoriously weak regulators, saying that the FDA’s is “pretending to act while barely acting at all,” this according to National Resources Defense Council.

Under the FDA’s voluntary plan:

  • The food industry would give antibiotics to animals only under the supervision of a veterinarian.
  • Veterinarians would prescribe antibiotics for food animals only to prevent, control, or treat specific diseases.
  • Drugmakers would voluntarily change antibiotic drug labels to indicate use of the drugs only when the animals’ health is threatened, and only with veterinarian oversight or consultation. A draft of this proposal was issued today and is open for public comment for 90 days.
  • New rules will govern the use of antimicrobial drugs in animal feed. A draft of the new rules was issued today and is open for public comment for 90 days.
  • The FDA will phase in the plan over the next three years. After that time, the FDA promises to check on how the plan is working and to take stronger action if it isn’t.

Most of the antibiotics given to food animals are put in their feed or water. This almost always is done on a herd-wide or flock-wide basis. It makes animals put on weight faster and makes them gain more weight with less food.

When antibiotics are used this way, the dose the animals get isn’t enough to kill off all the bacteria inside them. Over time, the bacteria become more and more drug resistant. When such superbugs infect humans, standard treatments don’t cure the infection.

There are some researchers, such as an expert panel of the Institute of Food Technologists, who say the odds are low that any of these bugs will find their way into humans. But in testimony before Congress, the USDA, the FDA, and the CDC all said that the use of antibiotics in food animals leads to infections with drug-resistant bacteria in humans.


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