US government sets new policy for antibiotics in food production

President Obama declares federal policy for ‘responsible use’ of antibiotics in food production, reports Amelia Levin

President Barack Obama signed a memorandum released by the White House in which he made it the policy of the U.S. federal government to “encourage responsible uses of medically important antibiotics in the meat and poultry supply chain” and direct the sourcing of antibiotic-free meat for use in federal cafeterias. The policy builds on the work of the Food and Drug Administration and antibiotic manufacturers, which are taking substantial steps to phase out the use of medically important antibiotics in food animals.

“Overuse and misuse can reduce the effectiveness of these miracle drugs,” President Obama said in the statement. He cited antibiotic resistance – the dangerous phenomenon that occurs when bacteria change so they can grow in the presence of an antibiotic – as the No. 1 concern behind the drug’s frequent use in animal feed and water.

Antibiotic resistance “threatens to return us to a time when many people died from common infections, posing a serious threat to public health and the economy,” he said. “Reducing antibiotic resistance will require stewardship practices in the use of antibiotics in medical and agricultural settings, including eliminating the practice of feeding medically important antibiotics to food-producing animals for growth promotion.”

Over the last few decades, many large-scale meat producers have incorporated daily antibiotics in animal feed and drinking water to help them stave off infections and illnesses as feeding lots grew crowded. Their actions have been vehemently criticised, not only by veterinarians who believe they should be the only ones administering the drugs, but also by animal welfare and sustainable food activists who note that crowded animal feedlots put unnecessary strain on animals as well as on the surrounding environment. With the increase in staph infections nationwide, the concern over antibiotic resistance – potentially caused by eating meat from animals treated with daily antibiotics – has pushed this debate further in front of the president’s desk.

Section 1 of the memorandum, focuses on “Making Available in Certain Federal Cafeterias Meat and Poultry Produced According to Responsible Antibiotic-Use Policies.”  By the Fall, GSA promises to initiate a process in which vendors, under new contract awards (including renewals), offer in GSA cafeterias, as an option, meat and poultry from animals that have been raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies. The Administrator of General Services, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will oversee these processes.

For three years following this initial change, a task force will be set up to continue reviewing vendors and other sources of antibiotic-free meat for use in federal cafeterias and other foodservice outlets. By 2020, to the extent permitted by law, the Federal Acquisition Regulatory (FAR) Council shall issue a proposed rule to amend the Federal Acquisition Regulation to implement a preference, with appropriate exceptions, for acquisitions of meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies served or sold in all federal facilities.

Amelia Levin


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