The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) issued a news release this week responding to the publication of  U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) documents in the Federal Register pertaining to the reduction of antimicrobial use for food-producing animals.  Under the new, voluntary initiative, certain antibiotics would not be used for production purposes, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency in an animal.  These antibiotics would still be available to prevent, control or treat illnesses in food-producing animals under veterinary supervision. A three year “phase-in period” would elapse before these changes become effective. The dates of the phase-in period are currently unspecified.

NPPC  says the anticipated loss of and restricted access to products that may occur with implementation of the FDA guidance on the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production likely will disproportionately affect small producers, have a negative effect on animal health and increase the cost of producing food while not improving public health.

First proposed in June 2010, the FDA guidance issued this week calls for antibiotics that are “medically important” to humans to be used in animals only when necessary to assure their health. FDA will work with animal health companies to help them voluntarily discontinue the sale to livestock and poultry producers of antibiotics that are labeled only for nutritional efficiency. Additionally, all antibiotics that are in classes used in human medicine will need to be used under a veterinary feed directive (VFD).

“The guidance could eliminate antibiotics uses that are extremely important to the health of animals,” said NPPC President R.C. Hunt, a pork producer from Wilson, N.C. “And the requirement for VFDs could be problematic, particularly for smaller producers or producers in remote areas who may not have regular access to veterinary services.”

The guidance, which does not have the force of law but may be treated as such by FDA, is a move to address an increase in antibiotic-resistant illnesses in humans, which opponents of modern animal agriculture blame on the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry production.

But numerous peer-reviewed risk assessments, including at least one by FDA, show a “negligible” risk to human health of antibiotics use in food-animal production.

“FDA did not provide compelling evidence nor did it state that antibiotics use in livestock production is unsafe,” said Hunt, who pointed out that the agency already has authority to withdraw unsafe products. “Pork producers work with veterinarians to carefully consider if antibiotics are necessary and which ones to use, and we use them to keep animals healthy and to produce safe food.”

The agency did state that disease prevention, control and treatment uses of antibiotics in livestock production are therapeutic and essential to protect animal health, and those label claims will not be affected by its guidance. FDA also will work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to understand the implications of the VFD on underserved areas.