U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., this week announced plans to introduce legislation that would improve information release on the use of antibiotics in meat animals.
Waxman's bill, titled "Delivering Antibiotic Transparency in Animals Act," will require drug manufacturers to provide comprehensive information to the Food and Drug Administration on how their drugs are used on farms, as well as require reporting by feed mills.
The Consumers Union, a public policy arm of Consumer Reports, announced their support of the measure Tuesday. The group says overuse of antibiotics by the agriculture industry has made antibotics less effective in humans.
In June, the group criticized antibiotic use in a campaign to encourage grocery stores to carry only meat raised without antibiotics.
An accompanying report, "Meat On Drugs: The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals and What Supermarkets and Consumers Can Do to Stop It," found that 72% of survey respondents were "extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed."
As a result of the campaign, Consumer's Union last month provided a petition with more than half a million signatures urging grocery chain Trader Joe's to carry only antibiotic-free meat.
Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives with the Consumers Union, joined Rep. Waxman at his announcement of the legislation at a press conference in Santa Monica, Calif.
Halloran said in a press statement that the legislation will show the extent to which antibiotics are overused on the farm, and allow the FDA to take appropriate action.
"The daily feeding of antibiotics to healthy farm animals threatens public health by making these critical medications less effective for people," she said. "We need to limit the excessive use of antibiotics in animal feed if we are going to prevent them from losing their power for people."
Rep. Waxman said reliable information about antibiotic use is necessary, and agreed with Halloran's concerns.
"The more we learn, the graver the threat becomes from overuse of antibiotics by industrial-scale farms," Waxman said. "We need this information so scientists and Congress can stop the spread of drug-resistant infections from farm animals to humans."
Antibiotic legislation isn't a new concept – Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., reintroduced her legislation, H.R. 965, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, in March 2011. The act calls for a phasing-out use of certain antibiotics in farm animal production.
Slaughter reiterated her concerns last month in response to the creation of the FDA Antibacterial Drug Development Task Force. Slaughter said the creation was an important step, but not enough.
"The objectives of this task force fall short of the vital public health need to prevent the emergence of antibiotic-resistant superbugs," Slaughter said in a statement. "The overuse of antibiotics in livestock production continues to be overlooked by the FDA."
Despite the ongoing outcry for additional regulation, the American Meat Institute has maintained its position that antibiotics are used in meat animals to prevent and treat disease, ensuring animal health.
In an AMI white paper, the organization said the meat industry has a "strong record of compliance" to withdrawal periods, ensuring safe products.
"When antibiotics are used in livestock and poultry production, strict withdrawal periods must be followed before the animals are processed for foods," the paper said. "The U.S. Department of Agriculture monitors meat and poultry to ensure that in the unlikely event that antibiotic residues are present, they do not exceed the tolerance levels deemed unsafe by FDA and USDA."
Other farm organizations also responded to Rep. Slaughter's legislation this summer with a letter to the congresswoman that cited peer-reviewed studies on antibiotics in meat animals. Their letter maintained that reducing antibiotic selection pressure in animals "has no impact on human resistance levels."