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Eliminating Antibiotic Overuse in Animals

Eliminating Antibiotic Overuse in AnimalsTufts School of Medicine professor Stuart Levy views the FDA’s new ban on feeding Baytril to poultry as a victory in his 30-year campaign to end the overuse of antibiotics in animals.

Boston [09.13.05] Three decades ago, on a chicken farm in a semi-rural southwestern Massachusetts community, Tufts School of Medicine professor Stuart Levy set out to determine the long term effect of feeding antibiotics to animals. The practice, he discovered, may be partly to blame for antibiotic resistance, a growing problem that threatens humans and animals alike.

This fall, with a ban on Baytril, an antibiotic fed to poultry to prevent infections, Levy finally has the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on his side. Baytril is similar to the drug known as Cipro that is used in humans.

“This is the first time the FDA has actually been able to step in and make a decision of this kind,” Levy, who directs the Center for Adaptation Genetics and Drug Resistance, said recently on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation: Science Friday. “I think it’s a very, very big step.”

Levy explained that the problem with using antibiotics like Baytril on chickens and ducks to prevent rather than treat respiratory illnesses is the resulting development of resistant strains of bacteria.

“Antibiotics used anywhere, whether it’s in beekeeping, whether it’s in aquaculture, wherever, forms a general environmental pool of antibiotics and [they] result in [the] killing of susceptible strains of bacteria and the emergence of those that are resistant,” Levy said on the radio talk show. “And those resistant bacteria don’t stay in that one environment, whether it’s a farm or the hospital…They move out. And so any use of an antibiotic will cause an increase in this pool of resistant bacteria, which [is] constantly a threat to our human health and our ability to treat.”

With the number of resistant strains of bacteria growing, finding antibiotics to effectively treat people is a primary concern, according to Levy.

“We’re in a state - really in a crisis here - where we’re at a loss to find new antibiotics,” Levy said. “Few antibiotics are coming down the road, and few that would treat a broad number of bacteria, and I think that any way we can stop the selection of these resistant strains, the better.”

While Levy believes that the FDA’s ban on Baytril is an important step, he said on the program that more can be done.

“I think the next step…is to eliminate the use of antibiotics for a purpose which is not therapeutic and this is growth promotion,” said Levy, noting that a bill designed to prevent the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals was introduced in Congress in April.

He added that lacing animals’ feed with antibiotics to promote growth rather than treat disease is an out-of-date practice that began in the 1950s and may never have been effective in the first place.

“We don’t need this anymore, and the European Union has banned this use,” Levy said. “I think we’re lagging behind.”
























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