Antibiotic resistance is upon us and affects both human and animal health. In a May 2016 report commissioned by United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister David Cameron, Jim O’Neil, economist most widely known for coining the term BRICs for the emerging economies of Brazil, Russia, India and China and Commercial Secretary to Her Majesty’s Treasury in the UK, pointed out that 700,000 people each year die from bacterial infections that do not respond to antibiotics, and even more recently a new National Academy of Medicine (NAM) paper, conducted by six experts, outlines the evidence that there is a connection between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in people.
For almost fifty years, antibiotics have been approved for use in animal agriculture and human medicine to treat illness, and they have had a remarkable impact on our ability to improve the health of humans and animals alike. However, there are real concerns about the overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine, specifically as it relates to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in the US and around the world. The use of antibiotics has been the center of discussion in the US, European Union (EU), and other public forums, such as the World Economic Forum (WEF). In September 2016, there will be a United Nations high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance at the General Assembly in New York. Global leaders will meet to commit to leading the fight against antimicrobial resistance. The EU has even proposed to include an article on Anti-Microbial Resistance within the SPS Chapter of the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a trade agreement between the US and EU representing more than forty percent of global trade, addressing steps to mitigate resistance.
In recent years, the animal agriculture industry has placed a high importance on antibiotic stewardship to ensure these critical drugs continue to be effective at fighting bacterial diseases. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued guidance on the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, with the goal to phase out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. All of the affected drug sponsors have committed in writing to making the changes described in the guidance by the end of 2016. Additionally, the FDA wants to ensure the judicious use of antibiotics when used to treat and prevent animal diseases by requiring that antibiotics be administered under the supervision of a veterinarian.
Even with the changes made by the FDA and industry, there is a call to introduce legislation that would more stringently regulate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture and allow only the use of antibiotics to treat illnesses and not for prevention. California passed the first law in the nation in October 2015 that will require a veterinarian’s prescription for therapeutic antibiotic uses in livestock, ban other uses (including low-dosage levels used to prevent diseases), and require that data be collected on antibiotic use. With the issue on the global stage, it is possible that we will see more advances in both state and federal legislatures to regulate the use of antibiotics in either animal or human health.