“Obama Proposes Single Overseer for Food Safety” – New York Times, 20 February 2015

Currently, as many as 15 governmental agencies have their hand in food safety — primarily the Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department, but also others like the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. While the FDA and Agriculture Department are the main overseers, they too have different protocols and inspection methods.

The Obama administration has proposed a streamlined approach to food safety that would bring all the agencies under one roof in the Department of Health and Human Services. Centralizing food safety might run into some problems, as food safety experts, food safety inspectors, and consumer groups are already resistant to the idea.

The FDA and Agriculture Department often find themselves in opposition with each other: not only do they have different protocols — their guidelines are entirely different, from mandates to inspections programs to training and education — they are also territorial.

While the FDA oversees a majority of the food we eat, such as seafood, vegetables, fruit, dairy products, and shelled eggs, the Agriculture Department inspects our meat, poultry, and processed eggs. However, both departments’ inspections methods vary widely.

Everyday, the Agriculture Department, for instance, will assign inspectors to livestock processing plants so that every piece of meat and poultry is thoroughly examined. Every meat and poultry plant in the US is lawfully obligated to have an inspector there daily. Because the FDA is in charge of inspecting more food products, inspectors aren’t present at every plant.

Foods imported into the US also seem to have to pass few inspections. In order for meat to comply with US standards, the export countries must have inspection protocols that are the same as the Agriculture Departments. At the most, the FDA inspects two percent of our plant imports.

Some of the Agriculture Department’s food safety inspectors think that the FDA’s standards would weaken their own. Other doubters assert that there is no research that advocates that a streamlined system would be better than the US’s current system.

But it seems like US food safety might already need change. Every year, around 87 million Americans fall sick from food, 371,000 go to the hospital for that sickness, and 5,700 die.

February 23, 2015

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“Meat Industry Won’t Fight Antibiotics Rule” – Wall Street Journal, 12 December 2013

Last week, the FDA introduced new policy that aims to curtail growth promotion antibiotics used on livestock. The use of these antibiotics on animals has been linked to the generation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans.

While farmers and the meat industry support the FDA, neither think the new regulations will have an impact on the livestock industry. The FDA’s regulations deem it illegal to use antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, only allowing for antibiotic use when medically necessary. While the FDA now requires veterinarians to supervise antibiotic use on livestock, farmers will still be able to use antibiotics for preventative measures, especially in feed and water.

According to the FDA, almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics were used on livestock in 2011, a 2% increase from 2010. In 2011, around 7.3 million pounds of antibiotics were used to medicate people.

The FDA’s new policy is not mandatory for drug companies, yet animal drug companies like Zoetis and Elanco have complied. The guidelines request that drug companies remove any wording from their labels that implies that a drug promotes growth.

These are the steps in the right direction to protect animal and human health while enhancing public image for livestock and drug companies.

December 27, 2013

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“New Antibiotics Guidelines for Livestock Producers Explained” – The Cattle Site, 7 August 2013

Use of antibiotics with livestock has been long talked about in the animal health community; and finally, the FDA is introducing antibiotic guidelines for farmers and livestock producers to follow, in order to prevent the spread of antibiotic resistance to humans.

Farmers often use antibiotics as a way to help their livestock gain weight, while also preventing disease, but farmers aren’t required to report their use of antibiotics. The misuse or overuse of antibiotics can promote antibiotic resistance in humans, transferring resistant bacteria to humans. The goal of the FDA’s new regulations is to foster appropriate use of antibiotics in livestock.

The FDA has determined which specific antibiotics will have requisite veterinary oversight. They are going to work with drug companies to reprint drug labels that claim to boost feed efficiency and growth promotion, instead highlighting disease prevention, control and treatment. In addition, the FDA will concentrate on making it easier for livestock producers to acquire Veterinary Feed Directive drugs, which are used in animal feed; the use of Veterinary Feed Directive drugs are supervised by licensed vets.

Click here for the list of antibiotics included in the call for veterinary oversight.

Read all of our entries related to Human-Animal Health.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

August 28, 2013

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“Food-Linked Infections Rose Last Year” – Wall Street Journal, 18 April 2013

Regardless of the transference of antibiotic-resistant genes between humans and animals, humans can still become sick with other contaminants found in livestock, animal byproducts, fruits and vegetables. The number of infections resulting from contaminated food rose by 3% in 2012, much of it due to Vibrio bacteria, which is found in raw oysters and undercooked shellfish. Food-borne illnesses resulting from Campylobacter bacteria — found in poultry, unpasteurized milk, surface water and mountain streams — also increased in 2012.

According to the CDC, 48 million people contract food-related infections per year. After seeing the surge in Vibrio infections, the CDC and FDA are now observing state-run Vibrio-control plans, as well as studying how climate and other environmental factors add to shellfish contamination.

Infections from Campylobacter are second to Salmonella poisoning, which didn’t increase from the CDC’s 2006-08 baseline. Campylobacter infections rose 14% in 2012, from the 2006-08 baseline.

CDC continues to safe guard public health and we applaud their service to our nation.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 7, 2013

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“Antibiotics and the Meat We Eat” – New York Times, 27 March 2013

The agricultural industry’s use of antibiotics in their livestock has been a hot button topic the last few months, and only getting hotter. While the agriculture industry overwhelmingly denies that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be transferred from livestock to humans, a British-Danish report from last month shows that bacteria does has the ability to move from animals to humans.

As we wrote in a previous post in November, “Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny“, responsibility for regulating antibiotic use is splintered among multiple agencies: the FDA, USDA and CDC. The FDA polices drugs, a role they carry out by overseeing the meat sold in our supermarkets, and by monitoring the existence of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. The FDA is trying to get a handle on the kinds of antibiotics that are being fed to livestock, but to no avail — livestock facilities are not legally required, and are vehemently opposed, to divulge details about what drugs are administered to which animals, and in what amounts.

It seems as this point that the situation could be a matter of life and death. In 2011, the agricultural industry bought almost 30 million pounds of antibiotics — 80% of the US’s 2011 antibiotic sales — for animal use, the biggest quantity ever purchased. The drugs are mostly given to animals at low dosages in order to encourage growth, and to contain any sicknesses they might contract by living in such close quarters of each other and their waste. However, feeding livestock low levels of antibiotics can actually breeds antibiotic-resistant diseases.

In 2008, Congress forced drug companies to report to the FDA the amount of antibiotics they sold to agricultural facilities. Again, no information was released on what drugs were given to which animals, in what amounts and why.

The Senate Committee on Health, Education. Labor and Pensions reauthorized the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) for 2013, requiring veterinary-drug companies to pay fees to the FDA as a way to financially support the agency. Two Democrats from the House have introduced new legislation that would give FDA the authority to amass more data from drug companies, as well as make food producers reveal how frequently they give low doses of antibiotics to animals, so as to spur growth and offset poor conditions.

We believe that in order to lower societal costs, and protect animals and humans, open and objective debate needs to continue among all stakeholders.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 29, 2013

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FDA Sets Agenda for Veterinary Antimicrobial Meetings

The FDA and USDA are finally initializing dialogue on the subject of antimicrobial use in animals, through a series of five meetings that will take place across the country. The meetings will permit the public to weigh in on any challenges that veterinarians and producers will confront under new proposed regulations for veterinary management of antimicrobial use. The meetings will also center on other challenges, such as how producers can better locate veterinary services. The first meeting took place last week, April 9, in Bowling Green, KY, with the rest of the meetings spread out over April, May and June.

More information on this subject is also available from CattleNetwork.com

The FDA is working towards a goal of reasonable use of antimicrobials in medicated feed or drinking water for livestock, which will slowly allow for the elimination of antimicrobials in treating humans. This, in turn, will grant veterinarians more oversight of the existing therapeutic uses of antimicrobials.

Dates and locations of meetings:

  • April 23, 2013, in Olympia, Wash.
  • May 8, 2013, in Fort Collins, Colo.
  • May 21, 2013, in Pierre, S.D.
  • June 4, 2013, in College Station, Texas

You can find specific times and locations here.

We applaud the proactive actions taken by both FDA and USDA to engage the public and obtain a consensus from all the key stake holders — i.e. animal & human health service providers, the animal agriculture business sector, drug manufactures and consuming public — before enacting any legislation and regulations. This course of action is likely to yield databased decisions, striking a balance between food availability, safety, costs and jobs.

See our other entries related to antimicrobial use and antibiotics:
Study Shows Bacteria Moves From Animals to Humans
Conference to Examine Transformative Effect of Technology on Human-Animal Health
Antimicrobial Use and Resistance — NIAA Symposium White Paper Released
Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria Surround Big Swine Farms in China & US
Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

April 16, 2013

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“Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny” – New York Times, 3 September 2012

Since World War II, the antibiotic has been modern medicine’s savior, allowing doctors to treat and stop the spread of infections. Antibiotics are given to both people and animals; almost 80% of the US’s antibiotics are used to treat chickens, pigs, cows and other livestock that people consume. However, meat manufacturers and farmers are not forced to divulge details about their use of antibiotics – i.e. what drugs are administered in which animals, and in what amounts.

Though antibiotics are used to treat infections, people often suffer from antibiotic-resistant diseases; and many believe that there is a link between these resistant infections and regular antibiotic-use in animals. Meat manufacturers’ and farmers’ lack of documentation is a direct hindrance on identifying this relationship, both of whom maintain that there is no link; but both humans and animals play a part in the escalation of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Unsystematic use of antibiotics is a large problem, causing antibiotics to become less effective in both humans and animals. Meat manufacturers and farmers indiscriminately use antibiotics in order to encourage growth in livestock – some drugs encouraging growth, while others stunting it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has attempted numerous times to standardize the use of antibiotics in livestock; but it is hard to systematize and regulate antibiotic use in animals because there is nothing comparable to a national system that tracks animal healthcare, as there is for people.

The FDA continues its efforts to restrain drugs that are sold over-the-counter to meat manufacturers and farmers. Recently, the agency recommended banning specific antibiotics that are used to fuel animal growth, while also forcing meat manufacturers and farmers to acquire prescriptions for certain animal antibiotics.

Responsibility for regulating these issues is splintered among multiple agencies, which has become another obstacle. The FDA polices drugs, while the US Department of Agriculture’s scope is agriculture; the Centers for Disease Control also has a part.

Some meat manufacturers and farmers, such as poultry feed mills, keep meticulous records of antibiotic usage, and the FDA has the authority to review these records at anytime. But while the agency has access to these records, the data cannot be gathered to publish. Other data, most of which has been collected on antibiotic-resistant bacteria transmitted in meat, is so small that it is fairly unreliable – no real conjectures can be drawn from such numbers.

There is no way to confirm that meat manufacturers are complying with existing rules on antibiotic usage. In any attempt, regulators have to look for misused or prohibited drugs in meat from slaughterhouses and shopping markets, rather than regulating directly from the source – farms.

Judging from the conflicting viewpoints of consumers who want safer and cheaper meat, and regulators who want to protect public health, what can animal farmers do to satisfy consumers and regulators, while also guarding against rising costs? Perhaps there is a solution in better communication between healthcare providers for animal health and human health, and drug manufacturers and regulators.

Conceived, Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 28, 2012

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