FDA, We Have A Problem
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Thursday. According to a recent Pew survey, 14% of U.S. adults say they get their news from TikTok. That’s a whooping 4X increase in just three years. Oh, and nearly a third of young Americans (32%) ages 18-29 regularly get their news from the social media platform. I mean, who needs newsletters anymore? How could anyone possibly pay attention to what is going on in the world if it isn’t coming at you in tiny sound bites between viral dances and cat videos?
For all of you who are still willing to take five minutes of your day to read through a newsletter, what is the FDA doing to prevent antibiotic resistance from becoming a significant health issue? Let’s dive in.
FDA, We Have A Problem
Antibiotic resistance poses a significant threat to public health, and its connection to animal agriculture is becoming increasingly apparent. This problem is particularly pressing as bacteria develop resistance to front-line antibiotics, leading to over 35,000 deaths annually in the U.S. and more than 1.2 million worldwide.
The World Health Organization has recognized antibiotic resistance as one of the most urgent global health threats we face today.
A major concern is the potential overuse of antibiotics in agriculture. Despite efforts to understand and regulate antibiotic use, we simply aren’t doing enough to tackle the problem. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched a five-year plan in 2019 to enhance “antimicrobial stewardship” in animal agriculture.
However, as the deadline approaches, the agency is not regularly tracking or reporting antibiotic usage on farms—nor does it have a short-term plan to do so. In other words, the FDA isn’t doing what it had promised to do. It isn’t doing its job.
Experts argue that significant data already exists within feed mills, which mix antibiotics into animal feed and are required to keep records. These mills could provide valuable insights into antibiotic use patterns, helping to prevent overuse. Yet, the FDA has not been collecting this data. Instead, the agency has focused on small pilot projects and voluntary reporting systems, which—to no one’s surprise—aren’t really working.
Why hasn’t anyone figured out that voluntary reporting rarely works? That’s like a teacher letting students grade their own tests. It’s just not going to work.
The FDA has made several regulatory changes, such as banning antibiotics used solely for animal growth and requiring veterinary prescriptions for all antibiotics also used in human medicine. However, these steps fall short without comprehensive data collection. The agency’s reliance on sales data from drug manufacturers offers only a partial picture since it doesn’t indicate actual usage.
On the other hand, our European friends use sales and production numbers to estimate antibiotic use per animal, a practice that provides much more actionable information. The FDA’s approach to data collection falls way short of the more detailed methods employed in human medicine by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
There is a clear need for the FDA to collect and analyze data from feed mills. This data would reveal how antibiotics are being used and guide efforts to curb their overuse. Even if this data collection results in an incomplete picture, it would still mark significant progress.
On top of that, the FDA’s current focus on voluntary data collection raises concerns. Experience from states like Maryland, where antibiotic use reporting is mandatory but voluntary for veterinarians, shows that such systems don’t work. We need a more robust and mandatory data collection system.
The key takeaway? Antibiotic resistance is a growing issue, with animal agriculture playing a significant role. Though well-intentioned, the FDA’s current efforts won’t make a dent in the problem without comprehensive, mandatory data collection from feed mills. As antibiotic resistance continues to pose a significant threat to public health, the FDA must take more proactive measures to collect and analyze data to effectively address the problem.
The FDA needs to do its job (and people shouldn’t get their news from TikTok).