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Way to Go


The news that the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is implementing a voluntary plan with protein producers to phase out the use of certain antibiotics from food production signals a clear win for proponents of “clean” ingredient labels on foods sold at retail.

Accordingly, it seems a good bet that public pressure from the growing segment of consumers concerned about the purity of their food will spur many beef, pork and turkey producers to stop using these types of antibiotics – expect a raft of publicity attendant on companies’ announcements that they have joined the voluntary phase-out, which gives participants three years to fully implement the changes. Early adopters’ differentiation tactic of not using antibiotics will soon give way to the norm.

The phase-out announcement spurred the Brattleboro, Vt.-based Organic Trade Association (OTA) to issue a media statement reminding consumers that items made by their members already contain no antibiotics.

“Because the use of antibiotics in animal rearing is strictly prohibited in organic production, organic is the gold standard for consumers, today, concerned about their overuse and wishing to avoid exposure to antibiotic-resistant bacteria linked to such use,” noted OTA EVP Laura Batcha in the release. “Instead, organic producers provide living conditions and health care practices that help prevent illness and promote health of the animals — so just look for the USDA organic seal when shopping.”

FDA itself seems to be bowing to findings such as those from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which recently reported that up to half of antibiotic use in humans and much antibiotic use in animals are unnecessary.

“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

Once manufacturers voluntarily make changes regarding the addition of antibacterial products to animal feed or drinking water for growth enhancement, the affected products can then only be used in food-producing animals to treat, prevent or control disease under the direction of a licensed veterinarian. According to Flynn, participation is voluntary because it is the fastest, most efficient way to make such changes.

For its part, the American Meat Institute (AMI), which represents the interests of the domestic meat and poultry industry, also backs the measure. “AMI “strongly supports the prudent and judicious use of antibiotics in food animal production under the care of a veterinarian, as defined by the American Veterinary Medical Association, which is consistent with protecting both animal and public health, ensuring the ability to medically treat animals, and maintaining the highest standard of animal welfare practices, and we believe Guidance 213 adheres to these principles.”

With the considerable weight of AMI behind it, FDA’s voluntary antibiotic phase-out will likely be widely adopted by producers at an accelerated pace in the coming year. As a clean-label proponent myself, I’ll be scanning protein labels with even greater care and higher expectations.