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Elizabeth Warren Questions FDA Rules for Limiting Antibiotics on Farms

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

Photograph by Brooks Kraft/Corbis

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren

New voluntary rules to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture aren’t enough to satisfy Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). The Food and Drug Administration announced the rules in December, asking pharmaceutical makers to relabel drugs so that they require a prescription and asking farmers to use them only to treat, control, and prevent disease in livestock, not to add weight. But Warren is now questioning the effectiveness of the FDA’s plan.

The guidelines resulted from concern at the agency that overuse of antibiotics on farms might create drug-resistant bacteria, which can infect not only livestock but also humans. During a hearing by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions on Thursday, Warren called the FDA’s action a good first step but said it “doesn’t guarantee the prudent use of antibiotics in the context of disease prevention.”

While the guidance is voluntary, the FDA says that is the quickest way to implement changes. At the hearing, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said the agency has gotten positive responses about compliance from the drugmakers since it issued the plan.

Warren expressed concern that because the drugs can still be used for preventative purposes, veterinarians could still widely prescribe them. She said, “Even with every animal drug company agreeing to comply with the FDA’s most recent guidance, there could still be a lot of antibiotic use in animals that is ostensibly for disease prevention, but is still far more than necessary and will continue increasing resistance.” Hamburg responded that there will be oversight of vets’ prescribing practices.

“FDA intends to evaluate the rate of voluntary adoption by drug sponsors of the proposed changes across affected products. The agency will then consider if further action is warranted,” said FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey in an e-mail.

Companies have said they do not expect the rules to have a big impact on their business, which has some worried that this means farm practices will not change significantly. The advocacy group Keep Antibiotics Working said in a statement on that it “thanks Senator Warren for holding FDA accountable for its policy.” Still, don’t expect antibiotic-free meat just yet.

Wong is an associate editor for Bloomberg Businessweek. Follow her on Twitter @venessawwong.

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