Hearing Examines Use Of Antibiotics In Animals And Impact On Human Health

Use of antibiotics in animals being heard by U.S. House to discuss impact on human health.

Veterinarians, professionals in human and animal medicine, government officials, drug industry representatives and researchers came together yesterday at a hearing put on by the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health to discuss the use of antibiotics in animals.

This was the third hearing in the subcommittee’s series to examine “the growing and serious problem of antibiotic resistance,” according to Rep. Henry Waxman, chairman of the committee.

In his opening statement, Waxman pointed out that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently issued draft guidance which recommends that antibiotics not be given to animals to promote growth, and when these drugs are used, they should be administered only under the supervision of a veterinarian.

“This is a good first step,” he said. “But we must do more to tackle this piece of antibiotic resistance puzzle. And we must do so as part of a comprehensive strategy designed to safeguard the vitally important public health tool that is our antibiotics.

“It is critical that we encourage the development of new drugs. But it is also essential to preserve the antibiotics we already have. That means we must move expeditiously to slow the advancement of antibiotic resistance in both humans and animals.”

However, the strategy must be based on science, Waxman added. A notion that the United States Department of Agriculture agrees with, said John Clifford, DVM, deputy administrator for veterinary services with the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

“USDA believes that it is likely that the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture does lead to some cases of antibacterial resistance among humans and in the animals themselves and it is important that these medically important antibodies be used judiciously,” Dr. Clifford said at the hearing.

“USDA is committed to playing an active role in preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics; in addition to ongoing research, we are committed to identifying opportunities to reduce usage and maintain the effectiveness of these drugs—whether through the development of new treatment options for animals, such as vaccines, or through outreach and education to this country’s agricultural producers so that they have better information on antibiotic use.”

Christine Hoang, DVM, assistant director of the Scientific Activities Division at the American Veterinary Medical Association, testified yesterday in support of judicious use of antimicrobials in food animals but cautioned against federal bans. Such bans can have far-reaching impacts on both animal and human health, she said.

Dr. Hoang told members of Congress that veterinarians share the same concerns as their human health counterparts.

“Yet, we also have additional concerns that must be considered, such as impacts on animal health and welfare, and even negative impacts on human health that are often unrealized,” she said.

“Without exception, the AVMA is supportive of measures to mitigate risks to human health associated with the use of antimicrobials in agricultural animals. To avoid potential diversion of resources away from more appropriate disease-control measures, we encourage a regulatory strategy that is based on science, risk-and-benefit analysis, risk management that is commensurate with the level of risk and cooperation with all relevant stakeholders.”

Some groups, such as the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, have been pushing for lawmakers to enact the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), a bill that would phase out the routine use of medically important antibiotics in healthy food animals unless manufacturers could prove reasonable certainty of no danger to human health from resistance.

“Right now, Congress has a solution to control the risks associated with antibiotic use by animal agriculture,” Laura Rogers, project director of the Pew Campaign, said in a press statement yesterday. “It is time for Congress to stop the inappropriate use of antibiotics for promoting the growth of healthy food animals.”

The AVMA, which has posted a FAQ sheet on the judicious use of antimicrobials in food animals, does not support PAMTA.

“Although PAMTA may seem simple at first glance, we don’t support broad bans that aren’t based on science,” according to the AVMA website. “Passing legislation that would ban the use of these antibiotics before science-based studies and risk-based evaluations are done to determine if there is an actual risk to human health would have negative impacts on animal health and potentially on food safety.”

Congress also heard from Joshua Sharfstein, MD, principal deputy commissioner, FDA Department of Health and Human Services; Rear Admiral Ali Khan, MD, assistant surgeon general and acting deputy director, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Department of Health and Human Services; Per Henriksen, DVM, Ph.D., head, Division for Chemical Food Safety, Animal Welfare and Veterinary Medicinal Products, Danish Veterinary and Food Administration; James Johnson, MD, professor of medicine, University of Minnesota, fellow, Infectious Diseases Society of America; Gail Hansen, DVM, senior officer, Human Health and Industrial Farming Group, Pew Charitable Trusts; Randall Singer, DVM, Ph.D., associate professor, Epidemiology Department of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences, College of Veterinary Medicine, Division of Epidemiology, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota; Richard Carnevale, DVM, vice president, Regulatory, Scientific and International Affairs, Animal Health Institute; and Stuart Levy, MD, professor of molecular and microbiology, professor of medicine, Tufts University.

Click here to read their testimonies.

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