Keeping You Informed: An Update on FDA’s Judicious Use Strategy for Antimicrobial Drugs in Food-Producing Animals

By: David G. White, Ph.D.

Today, “antibiotic resistance” is a widely recognized concern. With the rise of bacteria that are resistant to many, and in some cases, all standard treatments, scientists and medical professionals are not alone in focusing on this problem. The general public is increasingly aware of the ongoing research and how antibiotic resistance can affect their immediate communities.

David WhiteAntibiotic or antimicrobial resistance is an extremely complex and challenging phenomenon that is driven by many factors. For example, bacteria can spontaneously mutate to become resistant to antimicrobials, even ones they’ve never previously been exposed to. Overuse in both humans and animals is another complicating factor. Although progress has been made in curbing inappropriate drug uses in human and veterinary medicine, more work is clearly needed.

In December 2013, FDA started the clock on major changes regarding the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals by asking the animal pharmaceutical industry to relabel certain antimicrobials used in feed in two ways: by removing those indications approved for “growth production/feed efficiency,” and by requiring veterinary oversight and involvement in order to obtain these products when they are needed to assure animal health.

We’re now six months into a three-year transition period for these actions to take place, and we’re happy to report that we’ve secured the voluntary engagement of all 26 affected animal health companies. Out of the 283 drug products, 31 have been withdrawn from the market completely, and partial label changes have been completed for two other products.

Today we released our first biannual progress report on this strategy. FDA has committed to keeping the public updated on the implementation of these changes, and we intend to release progress reports every six months. These reports will highlight changes made by drug companies to their products over the previous six months, and provide a summary of changes that are in progress.

FDA will continue to update its chart of affected applications in real time as companies make label changes.

Developing strategies for reducing antimicrobial resistance is critical for protecting both human and animal health. We are still in the early stages of implementing this part of our overall effort to slow the development of antimicrobial resistance. We’ve been working with drug companies to move this strategy forward, and we are in continual discussions with both the animal health and animal production industries to help identify the most efficient ways to make these changes to their products.

While these changes are significant steps forward, the strategy is still in its early stages. The changes are just one part of FDA’s overall strategy for monitoring and reducing antimicrobial resistance. We see these progress reports as a way to evaluate the impact of our measures on how medically important antimicrobials are used in food producing animals, but we also know there’s more work to do. Additional actions may be warranted in the future, and FDA will be continually assessing their impact to determine appropriate next steps.

As we move forward, FDA is working with federal partners, veterinary groups, and consumer advocates to develop additional ways to measure success in slowing the development of antibiotic resistance and preserving the effectiveness of existing antimicrobial drugs. As with any strategy, there will be additional challenges, but FDA remains committed to addressing them and sharing what we learn along the way.

David G. White, Ph.D., is the chief science officer and research director in FDA’s Office of Foods and Veterinary Medicine

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