A three-year phase-out of food animal antibiotic uses and over-the-counter antibiotic sales proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this month doesn't seem sound to Douglas Call.
"Removing antibiotics from non-therapeutic uses in U.S food animal production seems reasonable at first glance, but there could be unintended consequences," proclaims the Washington State University molecular epidemiology professor.
These consequences include "increased production costs and food prices, shifts in consumer preference for unregulated and cheaper imports, production shifts to unregulated areas of the world resulting in domestic job loss, and increased need for food safety testing for imported products," adds the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health constituent.
Antibiotic resistance is a very complex issue, he adds, "that requires attention to antibiotic use in human medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture." Part of his work is with antibiotic alternatives and the role that excreted antibiotics play in maintaining antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms.
"In the final analysis it is uncertain if banning antibiotics used for growth promotion will translate into any public health benefit" he says. "It is just as likely that finding ways to decrease the demand for antibiotics will accrue benefits with less chance of unintended consequences."
Call conducts research in Tanzania concerning the ecology of antibiotic resistance and plans additional collaborative studies in Kenya.
But he turned his attention on the FDA proposal in early December as the agency finalized recommendations asking animal drug formulators to voluntarily alter their labels so farmers could no longer legally use antibiotics to speed livestock growth.
The federal agency also wants to curb over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and require farmers to get approval from their veterinarians before administering the drugs to livestock.
The three-year phase-out has raised the concern of the livestock industry in the West where growers who have come to consider the antibiotics important wonder what impact the loss of the drugs would be on their businesses.