Healthy animals produce healthy food. Humans and animals alike get sick, requiring the use of medication. For more than 40 years, antibiotics approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been used to treat sick animals, prevent illness and maintain the health of animals. Livestock and poultry producers rely on these products so they can provide U.S. consumers with the safest food possible.
Several layers of protection have been put in place to ensure that antibiotics keep animals healthy without harming public health. While it is possible for antibiotic- resistant bacteria to develop in animals using antibiotics as well as causing resistant infections in humans via food, studies show it is highly improbable. Despite the scientific uncertainty, the FDA, Department of Agriculture, and other stakeholders of the veterinary community, have put several layers of human health protections in place during the past decade to reduce any risks associated with antibiotic use in animals. Layers of protection include:
A stringent approval process that was made stricter in 2003 when the FDA finalized an additional safety measure requiring a risk assessment of all new and existing antibiotics
Post-approval risk assessments that have been conducted and published by the FDA, sponsors and researchers
Food safety monitoring programs that have been established by government agencies and sponsors to track the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria
Responsible use programs that are specific to different livestock species to give veterinarians and producers specific guidelines of safe and proper use of antibiotics in their health management systems
Pathogen reduction programs that have successfully led to documented reductions in pathogens on meat, contributing to decreased food-borne illnesses
These many protective measures have allowed producers to keep animals healthy while protecting public health from the spread of antibiotic-resistance as a result of antibiotic use in animals. Congress should continue to rely on this science-based process and not make political decisions about animal drug approvals.
Political decisions made without careful risk assessment can backfire and harm human health. Emerging evidence documents the unintended consequences that can occur when policy decisions about antibiotic use are not driven by science and risk assessment. Studies indicate that the risk of food borne bacteria on meat increases when antibiotics that help suppress animal disease are removed. Clear evidence from Denmark shows that the removal of antibiotics for growth or health maintenance resulted in more animal death and disease, more use of antibiotics to treat animal disease, and there is little evidence that antibiotic resistant rates in humans decreased.