Meristem Land and Science: Driving Progress in Sustainability

NewStream Farm Animal Care, Volume 3, Edition 5

Tipping points, trends and the FDA mindset

Posted: June 4, 2015

Inside the thinking that has led to unprecedented recent action on use of antimicrobials

Crossing over with trends in farm animal welfare is rising action and debate on the use of antimicrobials, culminating in the big recent news from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on new rules with major implications across agriculture, food, human medicine and beyond.

The new "Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD)" final rule aims to effectively shut down routine use of antimicrobials and shift decision-making power firmly to veterinary oversight to support an environment where the drugs are given only when necessary for the health of food-producing animals.

The move itself is huge. But equally intriguing is the dynamic mix of trends and developments that underlies it – comprising a blend of shifts in food awareness, agriculture, activism, corporate responsibility and more.

Here's some insight right from the horse's mouth, from recent speeches by Dr. Stephen Ostroff, Acting Commissioner of Food and Drugs for the FDA, which lead up to the VFD launch.

Eight key insights driving the new Vet Feed Directive

1. Major time of change. "When applied to a topic like antimicrobial resistance, three years can be an eternity. Consider just how much has changed over a 3-year period.Who would have guessed back in 2012 that political leaders across the globe would be talking publically about antimicrobial resistance?

" . . .This is a topic that is now discussed in the popular press, on talk shows, in television documentaries, and increasingly, in people's homes. For those of us who have been concerned about AMR for a long time, it represents a sea change and raises the question: 'What took you so long?' It's a change that calls to mind Malcolm Gladwell's 'tipping point' phenomenon . . . when 'ideas and products and messages and behaviors spread like viruses do.'"

2. Seizing the opportunity. "The good news is that we are seizing this opportunity. Consider all that has happened in less than a year. A number of countries have issued strategic plans to address antimicrobial resistance, the US among them."

3. Embracing 'One Health' concept. "We know that any truly complete response to this issue must embrace the concept of One Health. This approach acknowledges that the health of humans is directly connected to the health of animals - we share the same environment and the same microbes. And it affirms that the most effective way to respond is by addressing these concerns together.

"One of the principles central to slowing the development of resistance – on both the human and animal side — is the judicious use of antibiotics. A key way to achieve this result is through antibiotic stewardship programs."

4. Elevating certain feeds to prescription status. "The VFD provides certain feeds with the equivalence of a prescription status, and therefore requires specific authorization by a licensed veterinarian."

5. Consumer trends pushing for change. "Consumer demand is also driving the private sector to move in this direction, and it's already happening. As examples, McDonalds recently announced that beginning in 2017 it will only serve chicken that is raised without medically important antibiotics. Tyson Foods, the largest poultry producer in the U.S., announced just the other week its goal to eliminate the use of antibiotics in its chicken flocks by 2017. Perdue Farms, another major poultry producer, has also made substantial changes to its antibiotic use policies."

Dr. Stephen Ostroff is the FDA's acting commissioner of food and drugs.

6. Need to measure to manage. "Both private and public sector changes such as these are essential to slow and ultimately reverse the progression of antibiotic resistance in foodborne pathogens. But we have to be able to measure their effectiveness and impact. . . . By enhancing our testing, reporting and data-sharing, we can be better prepared for the emergence of resistance in zoonotic and animal pathogens and better track trends."

7. Global perspective critical. "Quite simply, in today's increasingly connected global environment, actions that precipitate or exacerbate the growth of antibiotic resistance are likely to present a threat to global health. One only need recall the Ebola crisis of this past year to realize the global nature of infectious disease today. As our National Strategy states succinctly, bacteria do not recognize borders."

8. Time to act is now. "For first time in decades, industry is engaged in a productive conversation about why we need to change our behavior and move forward, rather than debating whether we actually need to change.

"Whether it involves an expanding product development pipeline, more responsible use by doctors and patients, or changes by companies in their business policy by companies who adopt policies that promote 'judicious use,' I think there is real cause for optimism. But we must remember that there is no quick fix.

" . . we must constantly adjust our thinking and apply the new knowledge available to us to effectively address this moving target and make progress."

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