Obama Takes Antibiotic Fight From Pharmacy to Farm

By Robert Lowes
WebMD Health News

June 3, 2015 -- The Obama administration on Tuesday marshaled both the public and private sectors to fight antibiotic resistance at livestock feed lots, federal cafeterias, and the nation's hospitals and doctors' offices.

Antibiotics are medicines that treat infections from bacteria, and their overuse has made some bacteria resistant to the drugs.

The FDA also released final regulations Tuesday that, by the end of 2016, will end the practice of lacing feed for cows, hogs, poultry, and other animals with antibiotics to promote animal growth. The use of these meds to treat health problems in livestock will come under the supervision of veterinarians.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama signed a memo today directing federally operated cafeterias to gradually begin serving meat produced with responsible antibiotic use. This initiative, which takes advantage of the enormous purchasing power of the federal government, will support the emerging market for such meat.

Also, the White House held a forum on antibiotic resistance that included more than 150 food companies, health care associations, retailers, drug makers, and other groups with a stake in the issue.

The list included the American Medical Association, AARP, AstraZeneca, Cargill, McDonald's, Kaiser Permanente, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, Medscape/WebMD, Procter & Gamble, and Walmart. Each has made commitments to combat the problem of so-called "superbugs" that cause 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths a year, according to the White House.

"It's not too late to turn it around," CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, told the forum participants. "We don't want the miracle to be over -- the miracle of antibiotics. Unless we take action now, that is a significant risk.

"There are now infections out there for which we have few or no antibiotics. We risk turning back the clock to when simple infections can kill."

'Not Just the Government's Problem'

Tuesday's forum and administration announcements about antibiotic resistance build on a national strategy the White House proposed last September, along with an action plan in March that set more specific goals, such as halving the rate of Clostridium difficile infections by 2020.

Much of the campaign has focused on educating doctors to judiciously prescribe antibiotics. Health care groups participating in the White House forum pledged their commitment to responsible use of these drugs. For instance, Intermountain Healthcare promised to reduce inappropriate antibiotic use for upper respiratory conditions by 50% 5 years from now.

More appropriate prescribing depends in part on faster, more precise tests. Accordingly, BD Diagnostics, another forum participant, will make a test for tuberculosis that will spot the bacteria and any drug resistance at the same time. The Obama administration, meanwhile, continues to offer a $20 million prize for the development of a rapid test to spot superbugs.

As evidenced by the new FDA regulations, the problem of antibiotic resistance is as much a matter of farm as pharma. Livestock and poultry farmers, food producers, and retailers represented at the forum have been voluntarily phasing out the use of antibiotics for boosting growth, or have just committed to do so. Tyson Foods, for example, will stop using human antibiotics in its U.S. broiler chickens by September 2017. Walmart is asking suppliers to follow antibiotic guidelines from the American Veterinary Medical Association. Panera Bread is adding roasted turkey, smoked chicken, breakfast sausage, ham, and bacon to its list of offerings labeled as "raised without antibiotics."

The turnout of corporate America at the antibiotic resistance forum "shows that this is not just the government's problem to solve," says Amanda Jezek, vice president for public policy and government regulations at the Infectious Diseases Society of America. "The White House needs significant contributions from all stakeholders."

At the same time, Obama is taking advantage of his presidential power by changing the menus at federal cafeterias to feature antibiotic-responsible meat dishes.

"He's sending a message to food producers that this is an important issue," says Trevor Van Schooneveld, MD, a spokesperson for the Society of Healthcare Epidemiology of America.

More information about the antibiotic resistance forum is available on the White House web site.

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SOURCE: Medscape: "Obama Takes Antibiotics Fight From Pharmacy to Farm."

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