FDA Wants Fewer Drugs in Your Cheeseburger

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No one wants bacteria in their beef, but federal health officials are concerned that the widespread use of antimicrobial drugs in the production of any meat could actually be bad for public health.

On concerns that infectious diseases could become resistant to existing treatments for sometimes-deadly bugs, the Food and Drug Administration has drafted new guidance on the use of bacteria-killing drugs in meat production.

Healthy meat-producing animals are often given antimicrobials in order to prevent the growth of bacteria, explains the American Veterinary Medical Association.  But treating animals with these drugs as a regular part of meat production or in order to promote the growth of livestock isn’t in the best interest of public health, the FDA says.

Antibiotics are part of the broader category of antimicrobials, which are any substances that kill or prevent bacterial growth, according to the AVMA.

“The development of resistance to this important class of drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, poses a serious public health threat,” the FDA says. Food producers should be more selective about how they use antimicrobials on animals raised for meat, the agency suggests. And that includes beef, pork, lamb, veal and even chicken.

If bacteria were to become resistant to drugs meant to kill them, the results could be deadly, explains the World Health Organization.

If, for instance, E. coli, which has been found in millions of pounds of recalled beef, vegetables and other foods, became completely resistant to antibiotics, food contamination could eventually become a much more serious threat to public health, leading to a dramatically higher fatality rate among consumers unknowingly eating contaminated food.

Doctors have already become more judicious about when to prescribe antibiotics to humans due to fears that new infectious disease strains may not be killed by current treatments. For example, concerns have surfaced worldwide about the spread of a serious skin infection known as methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which is resistant to most common antibiotics.

Using antimicrobial drugs less is “key to minimizing resistance development and preserving the effectiveness of these drugs as therapies for humans and animals,” says Bernadette Dunham, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the FDA.

The FDA is welcoming public comment about the use of antimicrobials in meat in order to decide how to proceed in setting standards for the use of these drugs.

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