Three-fourths of the antibiotics in this country are used on livestock whose owners haven’t shown equal concern about ‘superbugs.’
Voluntary guidelines for pharmaceutical companies will not wean the livestock industry off its addiction to antibiotics.
Yet that’s what the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — which has previously taken tentative steps to curb the agricultural use of antibiotics and is under a judge’s order to carry out existing laws that call for limiting the overuse of two classes of antibiotics — is proposing. Obviously, the agency wants to avoid a protracted legal battle with producers, and its authority is limited by Congress’ repeated refusal to act. But this latest plan falls far short of the decisive action needed to make a difference.
Most of the antibiotics given to livestock aren’t used to treat illness but to quicken the animals’ growth or as a preventive measure to keep disease from sweeping through the crowded pens and cages that are common to industrial agriculture. Doctors have been growing more cautious about prescribing antibiotics for humans because overuse fosters the development of drug-resistant bacteria; last month, for example, the Infectious Diseases Society of America called for a drastic reduction in antibiotic use for sinus infections for that reason. That’s good, but it is of limited use when three-fourths of the antibiotics in this country are used on livestock whose cost-conscious owners haven’t shown equal concern about “superbugs.”