By Barbara Olejnik
Poultry Times Staff
GAINESVILLE, Ga. — The Obama administration has embarked on a series of actions aimed at curbing antibiotic use in poultry and livestock.
In a June 3 Memorandum, President Obama outlined steps the federal government is to take “to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic use” by supporting suppliers that have established antibiotic-use policies.
The president’s memorandum directs federal departments and agencies, using federal purchasing authorities, to:
- Initiate a process within 120 days of the memorandum to make available meats and poultry from animals raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies in certain federal cafeterias. The General Services Administration will lead this approach.
- Broaden the availability of meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies for sale in all federal cafeterias serving civilian federal employees by 2018 for poultry and 2020 for other meats.
- Develop an acquisition strategy for applying a preference by 2020 in federal acquisitions for meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies sold or served in all federal facilities.
At the White House, the Presidential Food Service will only serve meats and poultry that have been raised in accordance with the same responsible-use policies and not treated with hormones or antibiotics.
The president issued his memorandum at a White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship attended by more than 150 food companies, retailers, industry leaders, veterinarians and other human and animal health stakeholders.
Various poultry and meat industry groups expressed support of efforts to curb antibiotic use but pointed out that many groups are already working toward that goal.
National Chicken Council Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs Dr. Ashley Peterson noted that “the vast majority of the antibiotics that we use are never used in human medicine” and that about one-third of broiler chicken companies already produce chicken raised without antibiotics and/or organic chicken.
“All of our member companies are already eliminating their use for growth promotion and most are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance,” Peterson said.
Major chicken companies that have announced plans to stop using antibiotics in their facilities include Tyson Foods, Pilgrim’s Pride, Perdue and Foster Farms.
North American Meat Institute President and CEO Barry Carpenter expressed the hope that the White House forum would “foster a stronger understanding of antibiotic resistance and help lead to meaningful steps to best ensure both human and animal health.”
However, NAMI also expressed concern about about certain White House statements, including the announcement that the Presidential Food Service is serving only meats and poultry not treated with hormones or antibiotics.
- No meat or poultry product is “treated” with antibiotics. Livestock and poultry may sometimes be administered antibiotic, but strict federal withdrawal periods and careful federal residue monitoring ensure that meat and poultry derived from animals that received antibiotics are safe for consumers.
- Antibiotics are federally approved and regulated and can be essential in ensuring animal health and welfare. While the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion is being discontinued, antibiotics are needed because livestock and poultry, like all animals, become sick at certain times and require antibiotics to treat an infection or to prevent or control spread disease among a herd or flock. These antibiotics are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are used. Not utilizing antibiotics when a veterinarian deems it appropriate could pose an animal welfare issue.
- Announcements about changes in meat and poultry procurement are out of synch with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) analysis. In releasing a 2013 report on antimicrobial resistance, CDC’s Dr. Director Tom Frieden, said, “The really most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.”
- Hormones are never used in hog and poultry production, although they are approved for cattle.
- Hormones and antibiotics are quite different in their use and function. The reference to hormones in connection with a summit on antibiotics may confuse consumers.
- Beef products from both hormone-treated and untreated cattle have far fewer hormones than foods like coleslaw, eggs or tofu. In fact, no living organism can be “hormone free,” although that phrase is commonly — and erroneously — used.
- The Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine approves and oversees the use of both antibiotics and hormones in livestock and poultry. The White House announcement seems to demonstrate a lack of faith in FDA’s approval process and oversight.
Richard Sellers, American Feed Industry Association senior vice president of legislative and and regulatory affairs, also took issue with the White House announced plan to buy food for federal agencies from suppliers with “responsible” antibiotic-use policies.
The plan is “premature given FDA’s judicious-use antibiotic policy doesn’t go into full effect until December 2016, when animal drug sponsors remove production claims from approved animal drugs,” Sellers stated.
Sellers added that the president’s memorandum “sends the wrong to both our trading partners and consumers. It also focuses in on hormone-free products — which have not previously been part of the antibiotic discussion — and appears to imply hormone-free products are safer and should be preferred by consumers because the federal govenment, including our president, use them. However, FDA has made no announcement regarding any safety concerns about hormones approved for use in animals.”