From the NY Times: Antibiotics in Animals Need Limits, F.D.A. Says
The F.D.A. released a policy document stating that agricultural uses of antibiotics should be limited to assuring animal health, and that veterinarians should be involved in the drugs’ uses.
While doing nothing to change the present oversight of antibiotics, the document is the first signal in years that the agency intends to rejoin the battle to crack down on agricultural uses of antibiotics that many infectious disease experts oppose.
How big is the danger, you might ask?
How many deaths can be attributed to agricultural uses of antibiotics?
“I don’t think anyone knows that number,” said Dr. James Johnson, a professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, “but I think it’s substantial.”
Overuse of antibiotics is interesting in a couple of ways. One is that it’s a great example of the category of problems known as “social dilemmas“. (Those are situations, very roughly, in which everyone recognizes a problem at the social level, but at the individual level no one is motivated to take action, and there may actually be strong disincentives to take action.) Strong external pressure of some sort is usually required in order to remedy such situations. It’s worth noting that in the case of agricultural antibiotics, as in many other social dilemmas, part of the reason it’s hard to convince any individual farmer/rancher to reduce use of antibiotics is because he or she is likely rightly to realize that his/her restraint simply won’t help in any appreciable way. Only collective action across a significant portion of the industry will do that. That, of course, is precisely what we have the FDA for.
Of course, ag industry folks might also contest the FDA’s claims about just how much danger overuse of antibiotics actually poses. But in a situation like this, we have every reason not to expect industry to be attempting to influence public policy in anything like a fair and unbiased way.