Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Beginning of the End for Growth Promoting Antibiotics

Today (April 11, 2012) the FDA1  announced what they termed a “voluntary initiative” limiting the use of antibiotics for “growth promoting” or “production purposes”.  Please do not let the genteel approach of my professional FDA colleagues fool you.
This action is big!  It will result in the end of all antibiotic uses that are critically important to humans as well as those not labeled for the treatment or prevention of a specific animal pathogen or “bad bug”. 2
Although no published scientific risk assessment has  shown a direct human health impact of on-farm antibiotic use, the concern that farmers are creating a “super bug.  This, combined with an anti-big agriculture sentiment of many consumer groups3, has led the FDA to determine growth promotion useto be “injudicious” i.e. not in their best judgment. The word injudicious  represents an artful move by the politicos (recall, I was one) and shifs the argument from science (risk assessment) to precautionary politics.
Thanks to our democratic society and the patience of most parties involved, this action will produce a much larger and more immediate, yet targeted effect, than legislation or specific regulations could have achieved.  Although Guidance 209 does not take effect for 3 years, most of the veterinarians I know in large pork production companies have already begun to comply.  Additionally, I can assure you, the packers who buy that pork will make every effort to ensure compliance with FDA’s “voluntary guidance”, particularly through the producer’s Quality Assurance Program.4

1Food and Drug Administration. (11 April 2012). FDA takes steps to protect public health. Available online at <>
2Food and Drug Administration. (2012). Guidance for Industry #209: The Judicious Use of Medically Important Antimicrobial Drugs in Food Producing Animals. Available online at:
3Center for Science In the Public Interest. (11 April 2012). FDA Voluntary Guidance on Antibiotics Tragically Flawed.  Available online at <>
4 National Pork Board. Pork Checkoff Certification Programs: Pork Quality Assurance. Available online at


  1. Any time emotion fueled by media gets involved in what "should" be scientifically-based decisions, the results will be less than ideal and unpredictable. In 5 years, when we are asking why meat, poultry and pork products are more costly, or even intermittently and regionally unavailable, few will remember that we voluntarily reduced production capacity and why. I am sure over at HSUS they are crying big tears, as this issue, and others raised in the Pew report, are being wielded as "science-based" weapons to achieve political goals directed at reducing animal protein consumption in the US.

  2. "Dear Scott,

    Respectfully, I'm not sure I am in complete agreement with you on your comment Using antibiotics to keep animals healthy, which results in healthy growth, in my opinion, is is different than using antibiotics as "growth promoters". I'm not sure I've seen the scientific research demonstrating the use of antibiotics actually enhances the promotion of growth, independent of what a healthy animal would do without antibiotics. I would like to challenge the scientists to do their work, independent of the influences of social media. We need to maintain scientific independence, and let the science provide the guidance for our policy decisions.

    Please, show me the science where the use of antibiotics, by itself, promotes growth, against a similar group of healthy animals w/o antibiotics, that grew at a different rate."

    I don't think I said growth promoters (AGP) really work that well. I have heard similar sentiments from others, that in absence of disease AGP does not pay. Therefore I am glad to hear that you don’t think it is that important. Most scientific defense of AGP in pigs seems pretty old and I have no desire to defend it.

    Having said that, PREVENTIVE uses for a specific pathogen seem very important. Thankfully FDA is working hard to maintain that option for us, unlike happened in Denmark and EU.