By JENNIFER KALISH
Capital News Service
LANSING — For the first time, federal authorities are banning an antibiotic in livestock because of fears that some human diseases are becoming resistant to it.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban on cephalosporin will apply only to uses not specified by the drug’s label.
“Most antibiotics were developed for use in humans in the first place,” said Steve Halstead, the state veterinarian at the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. Many have other uses not stated on their labels, often due to a lack of research funding to ensure the safety of those uses.
Cephalosporin is most commonly used to treat human infections of the skin, respiratory tract and urinary tract. It is also used on cattle, swine and poultry to promote growth by killing internal bacteria.
However, the drug is more commonly used to treat infections in dogs and cats than in food-producing animals. Because of its widespread use in veterinary offices, the ban won’t apply to pets.
The FDA said the ban is intended to preserve the drug’s effectiveness on people.
But Murray Borrello, director of the environmental studies program at Alma College, said the FDA should have gone further.
“The ban of cephalosporin is probably a good start in my opinion, but it’s not nearly as far as we need to go,” said Borrello, who researches the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria around industrial farms near Alma.
He’s found more bacteria in the air around industrial farms that are resistant to the antibiotic tetracycline than in areas further from them.
The constant addition of antibiotics to the feed of those animals causes a significant rise in bacteria resistance, Borrello said.
He compared that result to people taking antibiotics when they can do without them, thus increasing the risk of a more serious infection later.
Tetracycline is the most widely used antibiotic on animals, Borrello said. Since cephalosporin isn’t as popular in animal agriculture, the FDA ban will probably make only a dent in reducing drug-resistant bacteria from farms.
Food-producing animals account for 80 percent of antibiotic use in the United States, according to the FDA. Widespread use of antibiotics can also create a higher risk for foodborne illnesses from bacteria like E. coli and MRSA.
However, animal use isn’t the only reason for the rise in dangerous bacteria, according to Borello.
“The human population is generating its own superbugs simply because we are taking so many antibiotics,” he said. “So we’re killing the easy bugs, and what is left are the bacteria that are resistant.”
Still, Halstead said, the federal ban makes a big statement.
“It’s a step, and it’s an indication that the FDA is taking antimicrobial use seriously,” he said. “They want to get the attention of animal farmers and large animal veterinarians.”
Jennifer Kalish writes for Great Lakes Echo.
By JENNIFER KALISH