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U.S. Government Accountability Office concludes “oversight gaps still exist” in FDA response to routine antibiotic use on farms
A new report released last week by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that new federal government regulations meant to reduce the overuse of antibiotic on farms are inadequate and more action is needed. The report comes as lawmakers in Salem debate Senate Bill 785, which would outlaw the use of routine, low-doses of antibiotics on healthy animals to prevent disease and require farms to publicly disclose their use antibiotics on an annual basis.
The GAO report on federal efforts found that “Agencies’ actions do not address oversight gaps such as long-term and open-ended use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention.” The report also found that lack of farm-level data on antibiotic use and directed the FDA to “to develop performance measures and targets for collecting farm-specific data on antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food animals.” The proposed legislation in Oregon would address those gaps and curb antibiotic overuse on livestock and poultry within the state.
“Ever since the FDA finalized their flawed guidance, we’ve been sounding the alarm that more needs to be done to stop antibiotic overuse on farms,” said Charlie Fisher, State Director of consumer group OSPIRG, “We hope this new information is enough to convince state lawmakers that they must act now to close the gaps in federal policy and protect the health and safety of Oregonians.”
According to the GAO report, one major flaw in the FDA guidance is the fact that it doesn’t address the routine, low-dose use of antibiotics to prevent disease in healthy animals. Often this practice is used to compensate for unsanitary and crowded conditions on large farms. This routine use of antibiotics turns farms into the breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant bacteria that can travel off of the farms and into our communities.
The GAO report echoes findings from an October 2016 report by the Pew Charitable Trusts that even with the new federal guidelines, there was a lack of guidance on many medically-important antibiotic labels for duration of use, the specific illness indicated, and proper dosage. The report’s authors concluded, “Of the 389 [antibiotic] labels, over 100 lack adequate restrictions on the duration of use, several labels do not specify a narrowly defined dosage, and 80 labels raise concerns about whether the specified indication is judicious.”
Additionally, the GAO report concludes, “there are still critical gaps in antibiotic use data, including the amount and specific types of antibiotics used across the various food animals and the indications for their use; these data are needed to further assess the relationship between antibiotic use and resistance in bacteria.”
Senate Bill 785 would not only restrict antibiotic use on farms to treating disease, controlling the spread of a disease currently on the premises of a farm, or use in relation to medical procedures and surgery, it would also require farms to report on their antibiotic use starting in 2018.
According to the CDC, antibiotic-resistant bacteria sicken at least 2 million Americans every year and kill 23,000. A recent study estimated that if significant action isn’t taken, more people could die from drug-resistant superbugs by 2050 than cancer kills today.
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