Panel's report likely to tie farm antibiotics to human resistance

PHOTO: Panel's report likely to tie farm antibiotics to human resistance

CHICAGO - A White House advisory committee is expected to acknowledge the link between antimicrobial resistance in humans and livestock being fed antibiotics when it issues its report in the next few weeks, according to the transcript of a committee meeting held earlier this month.

But how much of the public health problem can be attributed to such farming practices remains unclear, according to the transcript of a July 11 meeting of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST).

Committee members have declined to discuss the report before its release, which is expected to happen in the next few weeks.

In the transcript, council co-Chairman Eric Lander said there was "clear documentation" that antibiotic-resistant microbes can transfer from farm animals to humans.

"That judicious use [of antibiotics] in agriculture right now is absolutely essential," Lander said in the transcript. "There may come a point where one will say it's justified to say no use."

Governments and public health officials worldwide have begun ramping up efforts to fight so-called "super bugs" - microbes that have mutated to be resistant to medically important antibiotics such as cephalosporins, which are used to treat hospital-acquired infections like blood infections and meningitis.

The committee's report on antibiotic resistance, according to the transcript, is likely to recommend several actions to stay ahead of what Lander described as a "cat-and-mouse game played at this microscopic level between our agents, our therapeutics, and these microbes."

The actions are expected to include offering government incentives to encourage the development of new antibiotics; setting up a federal inter-agency task force on antibiotic resistance; finding alternatives to human-relevant antibiotics for livestock producers to use to promote animal growth and prevent disease, and increasing the US Food and Drug Administration's powers to expedite the approval of antibiotics for limited or specialised uses.

In the United States, consumer advocacy groups and some lawmakers have been urging the White House and federal regulators to take a more aggressive stance on how the US livestock industry uses antibiotics and other medications.

US Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat who is the only microbiologist in Congress, sent a letter last week to the president asking for an executive order requiring that all federally purchased meat be raised without antibiotics and calling for the establishment of PCAST's recommended inter-agency task force, among measures to address the problem.