Agricultural interests are concerned about several comments made by President Barack Obama in an interview that discussed antibiotic use in animals on HBO’s Realtime with Bill Maher last week.
While the President emphasized the value of science-based policies in the interview, several of his statements lack science-based supporting evidence and suggest a misunderstanding of the current policies enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
“So, when it comes to antibiotics, for example, the science is clear: We pump our animals full of it,” said President Obama when asked about the importance of holding companies accountable for judicious antibiotic use. “And that’s not just a problem in terms of what we’re ingesting; it’s also a problem that more and more bacteria is becoming resistant to antibiotics.”
The statement is concerning for the agriculture community as it provides an inaccurate description of how antibiotics are used on farms. His description could presumably serve as an indirect reference to the popular, yet factually incorrect claim that 80% of antibiotics in the U.S. are used on healthy animals. The claim, first made popular on the medical website WebMD, incorrectly compares animal and human antibiotic use, a practice the FDA has warned against in a cautionary statement on their website.
Also concerning was his failure to discuss the variety of factors that contribute to antibiotic resistance, including findings from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that antibiotic overuse in human medicine is the number one contributing factor in the development of antimicrobial resistance.
This interview occurred as the livestock industry continues to prepare for the January 1 implementation of FDA Guidance for Industry (GFI) #209 and #213, which will significantly limit the availability of certain antibiotics for livestock operations and further regulate their use. President Obama failed to mention this upcoming legislation or any of the current policies and systems set in place by the USDA and FDA to monitor antibiotic use, such as the FDA’s stringent drug approval process and post-approval risk assessment, government food-safety monitoring and inspection programs, responsible-use programs for veterinarians and farmers, and pathogen-reduction programs.
Also left out of the conversation were the antibiotic stewardship guidelines enforced by livestock production groups through producer certification programs like Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus). These farmer-funded groups have also contributed significant investments to the development of antibiotic-related education and research initiatives.
The President’s failure to reference the full picture of antibiotic use in animals, antibiotic resistance, and the industry’s ongoing commitment to antibiotic stewardship is deeply concerning and has left the increasingly disconnected consumer base unaware of the regulations that keep them safe.