Bill would ban use of many antibiotics in healthy food animals

Note: This story was updated Mar 6, 2002, with the addition of information about comments from a group that opposes the proposed legislation.

Mar 5, 2002 (CIDRAP News) — To slow the growth of bacterial resistance to drugs, Rep. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has introduced a bill to ban the use of eight types of antibiotics in healthy food animals and halt all use of fluoroquinolones in poultry.

"It is critical to restrict antibiotic use to those cases where it is absolutely necessary," Brown said at a press conference on the bill last week. "Mounting scientific evidence shows that the routine feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals–known as 'nontherapeutic use'–promotes the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be communicated to people."

The bill would ban the nontherapeutic use of penicillins, tetracyclines, macrolides, lincomycin, bacitracin, virginiamycin, aminoglycosides, and sulfonamides in all food animals. These eight, along with fluoroquinolones used in poultry, were chosen because of their importance in human medicine, Brown said.

Rather than taking effect immediately, however, the legislation would give producers of the drugs 2 years "to demonstrate that the nontherapeutic use of their drugs does not contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance in bacteria pathogenic to humans," Brown said. In addition, the drugs could still be used to treat sick animals. Brown also said that because the bill does not restrict the use of antibiotics not considered important for humans, farmers and veterinarians would still have many to choose from.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed in October 2000 to stop the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry because of concern that it is contributing to drug-resistant Campylobacter infections in humans. Bayer Corp, manufacturer of enrofloxacin (Baytril), requested a hearing on the FDA proposal, and the hearing is expected to be scheduled soon. The fluoroquinolone class includes ciprofloxacin (Cipro), one of the drugs used to treat anthrax infections.

Brown's statement said FDA procedures for halting the use of antibiotics in food animals "are so cumbersome that such withdrawals would likely take decades." His bill, called the Preservation of Antibiotics for Human Treatment Act of 2002, would directly cancel FDA approvals for the specified drugs.

Brown's bill is cosponsored by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-NY, the only microbiologist in Congress, according to Brown. The measure is supported by the American Public Health Association (APHA) and a coalition of advocacy groups called Keep Antibiotics Working: The Campaign to End Antibiotic Overuse.

APHA President Mohammed N. Akhter said in a news release, "The federal Food and Drug Administration first tried to withdraw these growth-enhancing drugs in the 1970s, and was rebuked by Congress. It is time for Congress to make the health of consumers a priority and stop the reckless practice of pumping healthy animals full of antibiotics."

But a coalition of industry, agricultural, and veterinary groups said the proposed ban "puts politics ahead of science" and would hurt the ability of veterinarians and producers to control animal diseases.

The legislation "would be a devastating blow to animal health while providing little public health benefit," said the statement from the Coalition for Animal Health. "It would strip veterinarians and livestock and poultry producers of important products used primarily to treat, control and prevent animal disease and produce a safe food supply." The statement was released by the Animal Health Institute, a lobbying group for companies that make drugs for animals. Also listed on the statement were representatives of the American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Swine Veterinarians, National Cattlemen's Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Turkey Federation, and American Feed Industry Association.

The coalition said the FDA requires makers of new drugs for animals to study the risk that a drug will promote resistance and noted that the FDA has authority to remove products from the market if they endanger human health. "This bill overrides that authority and puts politics ahead of science," the group said.

The coalition argued that Brown's proposal could make the food supply less safe. The statement cited a Danish study showing that chickens raised without antibiotics were three times as likely to carry pathogenic bacteria as were chickens raised with antibiotics. The group also argued that there is "no clear evidence linking antibiotic use in animals to antibiotic resistance in humans."

In announcing his bill, Brown cited evidence of increased concern about the animal- antibiotics issue in the food industry as well as among health organizations. The McDonald's, Wendy's, and Popeyes restaurant chains have said they won't buy poultry treated with fluoroquinolones, and leading poultry producers, including Tyson Foods, Gold Kist Inc., and Perdue Farms, recently announced they would stop using the drugs, he noted.

Brown's bill defines nontherapeutic use of antibiotics as "any use of an antimicrobial drug in animals in the absence of disease, including use for growth promotion, feed efficiency, or disease prevention." The National Academy of Science has estimated that banning such uses would raise meat prices by less than 20 cents per person per week, according to Brown.

The APHA statement on Brown's bill said, "The Salmonella bacteria found in commercial meat and poultry products has already become resistant to a number of the most commonly used antibiotics, including tetracycline, streptomycin [an aminoglycoside], sulfamethoxazole [a sulfonamide], and ampicillin [a penicillin]. The bill would phase out each of these drugs as a feed additive for healthy animals."

Newsletter Sign-up

Get CIDRAP news and other free newsletters.

Sign up now»


Unrestricted financial support provided by

Bentson Foundation Gilead 
Grant support for ASP provided by


  Become an underwriter»