We are what we eat: The FDA strikes a blow for effective antibiotics

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Antibiotics have been a potent weapon for mankind in fighting bacterial infections, but that weapon is losing its edge. The wonder drugs that once worked miracles are less effective because of antibiotic resistance. Alarmingly, the food chain itself is a culprit.

As the saying goes, we are what we eat and approximately 70 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country are used to treat livestock. It’s not as if all these animals are sick — often the drugs in their feed or water are used to fatten them or keep them from becoming sick in unsanitary conditions.

From the over-medicated farm to our plates. The result is bacteria and other microbes have become resistant to drugs. It is estimated that about 23,000 Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections and 2 million become sick. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has tried to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock, but its efforts have not kept pace with the seriousness of the threat.

On Wednesday, the FDA showed that it is serious, too, announcing a new policy to reduce the indiscriminate use of antibiotics important to humans in cows, pigs and chickens. It will phase out the use of drugs given to animals for food production purposes — such as fattening — and phase in veterinary oversight for appropriate therapeutic uses.

The implementation requires the voluntary cooperation of pharmaceutical companies, but two of the biggest have signaled they are on board. The transition period will be three years. “This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said.

Those who carp about government regulations don’t have much of a complaint with this plan’s reasonable approach and voluntary component. Besides, we all have to eat, and all of us have an interest in antibiotics that work when we need them.

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