National Consumers League

Cephalosporin prohibition a step in the right direction


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By Teresa Green, Linda Golodner Food Safety and Nutrition Fellow Last week, the FDA made an important decision to prohibit the extra-label use of cephalosporin drugs in certain kinds of livestock. This means that these drugs can no longer be used for purposes other than their intended use. This is an important decision and one NCL supports. When considering the issue of antibiotics in food-producing animals, it’s important to understand just how widespread antibiotic use is.  80% of the antibiotics used in this country are used in animals. Why is this number so astronomically high?  There are several reasons why farmers use antibiotics in their livestock.

  • Farmers use antibiotics when their animals become ill.
  • Farmers raising large herds of animals will often put antibiotics in their feed preemptively.  Because disease can spread quickly and widely in a crowded setting like a feedlot, many farmers see preemptive treatment with antibiotics as a necessary part of business.
  • Farmers also give their livestock antibiotics for growth promotion. In these instances, antibiotics are given to a healthy animal to promote faster and more widespread growth. This treatment with antibiotics helps farmers’ bottom lines.
Unfortunately, the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock is leading to the development of antibiotic resistance in disease-causing bacteria. This is especially problematic when animals are treated with the same drugs that doctors give us when we become ill. Bacteria develop resistance to these medications, creating a situation where a doctor must utilize another treatment option, often one that is less effective, more expensive or has more negative side effects.  The result is increased health costs and more people succumbing to illness. FDA’s decision to prohibit the extra-label use of cephalosporin drugs is an important first step in the fight to maintain the efficacy of drugs critical to treating human illnesses.  The FDA should continue to examine this issue and consider further banning the use of other important antibiotics in animals. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the government department in charge of meat safety, should also make it illegal to sell meat that is infected with drug resistant bacteria.  These two steps would go a long way towards protecting the efficacy of crucial antibiotics Americans use everyday.