Legislation introduced this week by two Democratic members of Congress aims to provide more information on the amount and use of antimicrobial drugs given to food-producing animals.

But the legislation, introduced by Henry Waxman (D-CA) and Louise Slaughter (D-NY), fails to improve the process of judicious use of antibiotics – espoused by both pharmaceutical companies and the veterinary community.

See Related Story: Slaughter: Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria in Food Nearing a Public Health Catastrophe.

The legislation, “Delivering Antimicrobial Transparency in Animals (DATA) Act, purports to help public officials and scientists “better understand and interpret trends and variations in antimicrobial resistance” and provide means for preventing and controlling resistance.

Specifically, the bill would require drug manufacturers to obtain and provide more detailed information to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on antibiotic use in each class of food animals.

As well, producers would be required to supply detailed annual reports on type and amount of antibiotics given in feed to their animals.

For its part, FDA would also be mandated to report how antibiotics were used for growth promotion and feed efficiency, disease prevention, control and treatment. The agency would be required to provide a breakdown on drugs sold or distributed by state and quantities sold by class of animal.

Ron Phillips, spokesman for the Animal Health Institute, which represents animal drug manufacturers, says these issues are currently being addressed by FDA.

“As part of the Notice of Rulemaking last year, we submitted comments to FDA in which we said that any proposals for further data collection should be grounded in science, and there need to be good scientific reasons that advance science and help farmers and veterinarians use antibiotics even more judiciously. And clearly this bill does not meet that test,” Phillips says.

Further, the legislation ignores data from FDA that indicates it is inappropriate to compare antibiotic use in humans and animals. “Because we know in any food-producing country that there will be more antibiotics used in animals than in humans,” he says. It’s true in Denmark where there is actual data on the amount of antibiotics used in humans and in animals. They found that 72% of the antibiotics are used in animals.

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Denmark (and Europe) banned growth-promotant uses of antibiotics in food-producing animals due to concerns about antibiotic resistance in humans. But the evidence shows that this practice did not reduce antibiotic resistance levels in humans and had no public health impact, Phillips says.

Liz Wagstrom, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council, finds the proposed bill doesn’t further the knowledge about antibiotic resistance and is restrictive. It requires producers to report medicated animal feeds. However, that reporting requirement is focused only at large producers, “exempting a large portion of farmers and placing a large burden on those required to report.”

In her estimation, the DATA Act represents “an extremely complicated and burdensome proposal that would in no way improve public or animal health.” 

See related story: Logic vs. Fear: Antibiotic Issue Draws Passionate Response.

Welfare is also a concern when it comes to attempts to restrict antibiotic use, whether it be in humans or in animals, says Matt Anderson, president-elect of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians. “Judicious use is a very valuable tool in the care and proper husbandry of animals.”

Antibiotics also serve a critical role in treating groups of animals therapeutically for bacterial infections – treating that population in breaking the infectious cycle and not allowing that bacteria to jump from one animal to another, he explains. “This is a very important part of really being able to deliver a wholesome, safe, affordable food supply.”

“I am convinced that we have never had a safer, more wholesome, more affordable food supply than we do today,” stresses Anderson with Suidae Animal Health, Algona, IA.