Press Release

For Immediate Release: July 21, 2009

Infectious Diseases Physicians and Public Health Experts Call FDAs New Approach for Antimicrobial Use in Animals a Major Win for Patient Care and Food Safety

Washington, DC - Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) applaud the Obama administration and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for adopting a new approach for the use of antimicrobial drugs in animal agriculture. These actions demonstrate a clear commitment to sound and science-based policies that will protect the health of every American.

In a letter to Melody Barnes, President Obama's assistant for domestic policy, IDSA and TFAH expressed their strong support for the administration's new "public health approach to antimicrobial use in animals," which calls for phasing out the use of antimicrobial drugs for growth promotion and feed efficiency. The new approach also requires that all other uses of these drugs be carried out under the supervision of a veterinarian and within the boundaries of a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship-thereby ending over-the-counter sales of tons of antimicrobial drugs annually.

"We recognize that phasing out antimicrobials from use in animals for growth promotion and feed efficiency will require major changes in the agricultural industry," said Jeff Levi, PhD, TFAH executive director. "But protection of the public's health must come first, and the phase out can be conducted in a way that takes into account any economic hardships it may impose." 

"The strength of leadership shown by the Obama administration-and particularly by Drs. Peggy Hamburg and Josh Sharfstein, FDA's new leadership team-in providing a clear path forward on this highly politically charged issue is a much welcomed breath of fresh air after decades of hand-wringing and inertia," said Robert Guidos, JD, IDSA vice president for public policy and government relations.

The development of antimicrobial agents to treat life-threatening infections has been one of the most notable medical achievements of the past century. Infectious diseases physicians and public health advocates are greatly concerned about the growing body of scientific evidence demonstrating that antimicrobial drug use in livestock and poultry contributes to the spread of drug-resistant bacteria to people. These experts are elated that these concerns finally are being recognized and addressed by the federal government.

The administration's new vision, which will end decades-old agricultural practices when fully implemented, was articulated in an FDA statement presented by the agency's principal deputy commissioner, Joshua Sharfstein, MD, to the House Rules Committee on July 13.

Fundamental to the administration's position, and IDSA's and TFAH's support for it, are the principles that:

"...protecting public health requires the judicious use in animal agriculture of those antimicrobials of importance in human medicine" and that "purposes other than for the advancement of animal and human health should not be considered judicious use."

                                    -from FDA's July 13 statement before Congress

"The Administration's new stance to eliminate non-judicious uses and over-the-counter sales of antimicrobials in animal agriculture represents a critical public policy shift and a major win for patient care and food safety," said IDSA President Anne A. Gershon, MD, FIDSA.  "Despite uncertainties regarding the frequency and mechanisms of antibiotic resistance acquired from food animals, it is reasonable and prudent to conclude that the use of antimicrobials in food animals poses a threat to human health and that all non-judicious uses must end." 

It is well-documented that the use of fluoroquinolone-an antimicrobial agent-in poultry has been a major source of fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter infections in people. The European Union recognized this threat in 2002 and banned the use of antimicrobial growth promoters in animals raised for food by 2006. There also is growing concern that recent outbreaks of salmonella or enteropathic E. coli-which have led to many illnesses, deaths, and the recalls of millions of tons of ground meat in recent years-represent the adverse effects of antimicrobial drugs being fed to animals. 

IDSA and TFAH leaders believe it is critically important that the public and medical and public health communities closely monitor and engage the administration as it considers how best to implement its new vision, as agricultural sector lobbyists likely already are working to undermine it. It likely also will be necessary to engage and work with members of Congress should FDA determine it requires additional statutory authority to implement its new approach. 

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) represents more than 8,600 infectious diseases physicians and scientists devoted to patient care, education, research, and public health.  Our members care for patients with serious infections, including antimicrobial resistant bacterial infections, meningitis, pneumonia, surgical infections, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and influenza.


Elle Hogan
202-223-9870 x21