Feds take hard look at veterinary drugs

Food-animal producers have a formidable foe, one that's everywhere they look yet too small to see. Bacteria, the most abundant biomass on Earth, serve many essential functions for the existence of life. But staying ahead of harmful, illness-causing microorganisms has long been a challenge for farmers both on land and sea, and it may get tougher now that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) wants fewer antibiotics to enter the food supply.

Acknowledging that humans may build resistance to medically important drugs that are also being administered to animals, the food-safety agency in December launched an initiative to curtail veterinary drug use, starting with the manufacturers. While the FDA asked for their voluntary participation, and is thus far getting it, the usage of veterinary drugs on farms — both terrestrial and aquatic — is anything but voluntary. Producers must administer antibiotics, most commonly through feed, strictly according to the directions on the label. Domestically, it must be done under the supervision of a veterinarian.

"Drug-resistance concerns are driven by drug-use practices upstream," says William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, adding that full implementation is expected by 2017. "We consider aquaculture as producing food animals, just like cattle, pigs and poultry. There are differences and commonalities."

While fish has barely been mentioned in the growing global discussion about antibiotic use, it's important to remember that aquaculture produces roughly half of the world's seafood supply, and antibiotics play a key role in protecting crops and producers' economic viability. Commercial-scale finfish aquaculture would struggle without veterinary drugs, although there are exceptions where little to no antibiotics or other chemicals are employed.

Click here to read the full story in the March issue of SeaFood Business >


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