NEWS SCAN: FDA fights ruling on ag antibiotics, poultry-inspection worries, TB vaccine grant, West Nile cost, H5N1 in live markets

Jun 1, 2012

FDA appeals ruling on banning some antibiotics in food animals
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently appealed a federal magistrate judge's ruling that the agency must restart a 35-year-old process to ban the growth-promotion uses of penicillin and tetracycline in food animals. The Mar 22 ruling by Judge Theodore H. Katz came in a lawsuit filed by five nonprofit groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists. The FDA filed an appeal on May 21 to the Second District US Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling ordered the FDA to notify drug makers that it may ban the non-treatment uses of the antibiotics on grounds that it may increase the spread of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. The ruling stipulated that manufacturers could request a hearing to present evidence that such uses are safe. In 1977, congressional opposition forced the FDA to back down from restricting antibiotic use in food animals, and since then the agency has relied mostly on a voluntary strategy for discouraging growth-promoting uses of the drugs. The FDA's appeal was sharply criticized today by Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., who has sponsored legislation to prevent the overuse of antibiotics. "Today, antibiotic-resistant infections kill more Americans than AIDS," Slaughter said in an e-mailed statement. "So as far as I’m concerned, FDA's decision to appeal the March ruling is nothing short of a dereliction of duty."
May 21 FDA notice of appeal
Mar 23 CIDRAP News item on the court ruling

Consumer groups criticize USDA's proposed poultry-inspection changes
Three major consumer groups have criticized a US Department of Agriculture (USDA) plan to turn most of the work of inspecting poultry carcasses over to the processing companies, according to a report in Food Safety News. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Consumer Federation of America (CFA), and Consumers Union raised various concerns in formal written comments on the USDA plan, under which the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service would trim its poultry inspection force and focus more on monitoring sanitation in the poultry facilities. The approach, called the HACCP-Based Inspection Models Project, would allow companies to increase their production line speeds from 145 to 175 birds per minute. CSPI and CFA said the USDA proposal should include a uniform microbiologic testing system "with a required testing frequency so that each plant's performance can be monitored as any changes are made," the story said. Both groups argued that the USDA should increase testing requirements and collect more data before making its proposed changes so that it will have a baseline for assessing their impact. Consumers Union argued that line speeds should not be increased, saying this will allow more defective birds to reach supermarkets. In addition, all three groups called on the USDA to set training requirements for company inspectors.
Jun 1 Food Safety News report on poultry inspection plan
Jan 20 CIDRAP News story on the USDA proposal

NIAID awards grant for new TB vaccine
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has awarded a research group at Albert Einstein College of Medicine a 5-year, $5.9 million grant to develop a new vaccine against tuberculosis (TB) that covers even multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant forms. The new vaccine is based on genetically altered Mycobacterium smegmatis, which is closely related to the species that causes TB in humans, according to a May 30 Einstein news release. The new vaccine is based on trials of M smegmatis in mice, which is lethal to those animals but not humans. In a study in the September issue of Nature Medicine, the group described how mice inoculated with altered M smegmatis mounted a robust immune response to M tuberculosis. Their version of M smegmatis lacks ESX-3 genes that are crucial for evading host immunity. However, removing the same genes from M tuberculosis killed the bacteria, so it couldn't be used to support vaccine development. They found that inserting an analogous set of M tuberculosis ESX-3 genes into the other strain, and when administered to mice, improved survival in those who were challenged with M tuberculosis. The NIAID grant will help researchers boost the effectiveness of the vaccine with more genetic modifications, develop a manufacturing process for making a human vaccine, and develop assays for identifying the most potent batches, according to the news release.
May 30 Albert Einstein College of Medicine news release

Survey: Controlling West Nile mosquitoes too expensive with current risk
Given current disease-risk levels, people aren't willing to pay for mosquito-control programs specifically targeting species that carry West Nile virus (WNV), a survey conducted in Madison, Wis., found. The researchers questioned Madison homeowners about their willingness to pay for controlling WNV-transmitting (Culex) mosquitoes and "nuisance mosquitoes," according to their report in Vector-Borne and Zoonotic Diseases. The survey targeted 1,556 households and drew 282 responses, a rate of 18%. At the current WNV risk level of about 1 case per year in the city of 250,000, respondents on average were not willing to pay for programs that target only WNV-carrying mosquitoes, but they were willing to pay an average of $147 for a reduction in nuisance mosquitoes. But willingness to pay increased with hypothetical disease risk. At the highest risk level—100 cases per 250,000 population—respondents were willing to pay an average of $158 per household to control WNV mosquitoes and $108 to control nuisance mosquitoes. Current mosquito-control efforts in Madison and Dane County are aimed exclusively at WNV mosquitoes, which have different breeding habits than the major nuisance species in the area, the report notes.
May 31 Vector-Borne Zoonotic Dis abstract

Vietnam H5N1 market study finds risky practices
Researchers who tested ducks for H5N1 avian flu in Vietnam's live bird markets found some notable geographic differences, along with information about risky biosecurity practices among farmers and traders. The sampling took place in 2011 at two times, one in January right before the Tet holiday when poultry production ramps up, and the other in May. Researchers tested birds in markets in 39 districts in five provinces, which spanned the Red River, the Mekong Delta, and central Vietnam. Testing involved random sampling of 160 ducks from each of two markets in each district. Investigators obtained cloacal and oropharyngeal samples. They also administered a survey to 1,120 market stallholders. They sampled 12,480 ducks in all, divided into 2,486 pools of 5 ducks each. Overall, 3.3% of pools had evidence of H5N1 exposure on reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction testing. The highest prevalence (6.6% of pools) was found in birds from the Mekong Delta, with no H5N1 detected in birds from the Red River delta. They also found a higher prevalence of H5N1 infection in January compared with May (28.2% of markets had positive tests in January, compared with 12.0% in May). The survey of traders found that a high proportion enter farms without adequate biosecurity measures, and stallholders reported hazardous practices, such as accepting sick and dead ducks. The authors said the results can be used to steer future educational campaigns.
Jun 1 Epidemiol Infect abstract

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