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New FDA Ban Aimed at Reducing Prevalence of "Super Bugs"

January 19, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - Farmers in Indiana and around the country have until April 5 - when it will be banned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - to find alternatives to the off-label use of an antibiotic often used to treat farm animals. This class of antibiotics - cephalosporins - is also used to treat respiratory and soft-tissue infections in humans. The concern is that if people are overly exposed to them, the drugs may lose effectiveness.

Dr. Maria Cooper, a veterinarian with the Indiana Board of Animal Health, says off-label use is common by Hoosier farmers.

"They are fairly economical, they're easy to use and they're readily available. Producers and veterinarians alike are going to have to turn to different antibiotics or institute different management practices in order to maintain the health of their animals."

The ban prohibits certain unapproved uses of cephalosporins in cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys. Typically, Cooper says, off-label uses of antibiotics by veterinarians are allowed by law.

David Wallinga, senior adviser on science, food and health with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, says the ban is a step in the right direction - and that more needs to be done about the use of antibiotics in agriculture. He notes that cephalosporins are very important for treating human infections - but their use in animals can lead to the development of so-called 'super bugs.'

"The problem with the animal use is that it's helping to create potentially life-threatening infections with those bugs that are resistant to treatment with that drug. The animal use is undercutting the human use."

About 54,000 pounds of cephalosporins were used in producing farm animals in the U.S. in 2010. Wallinga notes that's just a drop in the bucket when it comes to antibiotics in agriculture.

"According to FDA's own data, 29 million pounds of antibiotics are being used each year in agriculture, and most of that is the huge amounts of antibiotics put into animal feed - things like tetracycline and penicillins."

More information is available at http://bit.ly/xVxv6y.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN