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Are Tightened FDA Rules for Antibiotics Enough?

On January 1, a set of long-awaited rules implemented by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) targeting antibiotic abuse on animal farms went into effect. The new policies, known as Guidance for Industry #213, mean that antibiotics are no longer permitted to help farm animals gain weight, a practice common among large farms to promote quicker growth and prevent disease in animals.

But critics are already claiming the new rule has loopholes that will allow farmers to continue using antibiotics. Additionally, drug company compliance is technically voluntary, leaving others to speculate that this approach will fail to make the impression it should.

One key element of the new rule is that it will require the use of “medically important” antibiotics to be given under veterinary supervision, making it harder for farmers to use them. And while regulators may have limited resources to monitor and enforce these rules, famers can count on animal welfare activists to police on their own in search of the next opportunity to expose the wrongdoings of the industry. These organizations time and again have targeted large corporations for inhumane treatment of animals, and some have been successful in forcing some of the largest food companies to change their corporate policies toward stricter animal rights laws.

While critics will continue to find issues with new rules and suggest that they could be stronger, most should agree that the newly instituted policy represents a major stride forward, and a shift in the way the FDA approaches antibiotic use on farms. Pew Trusts antibiotics expert Karin Hoelzer wrote, “The successful implementation of this guidance marks a fundamental shift in how antibiotics can be given to animals in the US and is indicative of the growing consensus that antibiotics should be used only when necessary and appropriate to protect animal health.”

The policies reflect an acknowledgment by the agency of concerns by a conscious consumer base that cares more now than ever about the foods they consume.

It will be interesting to see what comes next from FDA, particularly in light of a new administration and ongoing debate over whether the positive steps that food regulators are making are enough to satisfy critical audiences.

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