FDA bans antibiotic for poultry

Move is a big step toward protecting humans from food-borne illnesses

July 29, 2005|By Jonathan D. Rockoff | Jonathan D. Rockoff,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Food and Drug Administration took its first step yesterday toward stemming the increase of drug-resistant bacteria that could dangerously infect humans by banning the use of an antibiotic given to animals. The agency ordered off the market a drug commonly given to chickens and turkeys with respiratory infections.

The use of the drug, Baytril, in poultry was contributing to the growth of an antibiotic-resistant strain of bacteria that cause food-borne illnesses in humans, the agency determined. Now, it said, one in five human infections with Campylobacter involves the drug-resistant strain of the bacteria.

"We hope that once this drug is not marketed and used in poultry, the resistance in humans will go down or at least not go up," said Stephen Sundlof, director of the Center for Veterinary Medicine at the agency.

The poultry industry said Baytril, administered in water, was used as a drug of last resort to treat the most serious infections in chickens and turkeys.

Doctors and public health organizations have expressed greater concern about the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed. A group called Environmental Defense recently said Maryland was the country's fourth-leading user of antibiotic animal feed. Delaware ranked first.

Many bacteria can develop a resistance to drugs after repeat exposure, whether in humans or animals. So medical authorities have pushed for restricting the use of antibiotics on animals in order to maintain their effectiveness on humans. The FDA hadn't acted, however, until Commissioner Lester Crawford ordered Baytril off the market.

"It's a good move," said Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. "Why put people at risk by having organisms resistant to our frontline therapies?"

The association has urged the FDA to ban the use of other drugs given to animals, Benjamin said. The agency is reviewing several, Sundlof said.

Yesterday's decision is likely to affect poultry farms in Maryland, although Perdue and some other companies had previously decided to stop using the antibiotic. Richard Lobb, spokesman for an industry trade group that includes many of Maryland's poultry companies, criticized the FDA for removing an "important medication" for treating serious respiratory illnesses in poultry.

"The alternative medications are not as effective for dealing with these specific infections," said Lobb, of the National Chicken Council.

Maryland ranks seventh in the United States in poultry production. Poultry is the largest component of the state's $1.5 billion farm business. Last year, the Delmarva peninsula had 1,900 farms selling 576 million chickens.

The FDA took action after it determined the drug's use on poultry was causing resistance to emerge in bacteria carried by chickens and turkeys. The bacterium, known as Campylobacter, leads to food-borne illnesses in humans. Doctors say the illnesses cause diarrhea, fever and other symptoms similar to salmonella poisoning. But if not treated, or not treated effectively, the infections can have more serious consequences, such as severe arthritis and even death.

The FDA's decision does not prevent the use of Baytril on other animals, such as cats, dogs and cattle.

In 1996, the agency first approved the drug for veterinary use. By 2000, however, it was seeking to limit its application in poultry.

Abbott Laboratories voluntarily withdrew its brand of the drug, Sundlof said. But Bayer AG, Baytril's manufacturer, fought the FDA.

The company has 60 days to appeal the most recent decision in federal court.

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