Saturday, March 24, 2012

Who cares about benefit to the animals?

On Feb 23, 2012 a great leader in veterinary medicine, my father-in-law, and best friend of 36 years passed away. Dr. C Don Van Houweling was director of FDA’s Bureau  of Veterinary Medicine from 1967 to 1978. His office is in charge of all new animal drug approvals including antibiotics. Even in 1975  he was in the midst of the still raging debate about the human health risk of livestock antibiotic use (Grooters 2012). My first encounter with Dr Van Houweling was on the front of the Washington Post, where his public grilling by Senator Ted Kennedy was reported. His daughter and I spent many hours in the Union at Virginia Tech, and occasionally we read the newspaper.
Recently, I had asked Dr. Van Houweling how he had stopped the pressure to ban antibiotics in animal feed generated by the Swann Report (Swann et al. 1969).  He answer was immediate and definitive, “we showed the benefit to the animals. (Van Houweling 1977a, 1977b.) Today, if I ask FDA regulators about any analysis that might compare the risk of resistant bacteria to the animal benefit, they reply that they are not allowed to look at the benefit.  So in this ongoing effort to ban production and preventive antibiotics and to raise livestock without any antibiotics, I scratch my balding head and wonder, “Who cares about benefit to the animals now?”

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