New GAO report confirms what we know: FDA is not doing enough to combat antibiotic resistance

Public health and medical groups have been saying it for a while: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not doing enough to combat the rising public health threat of antibiotic resistance linked to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock.  And now, the latest review by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) reinforces what they (us included) have been saying. 

The newly released GAO report finds that federal agencies, including FDA, have made only “limited progress” in addressing antibiotic use in animals in the last 7 years.  In fact, FDA and the other agencies are even failing to gather the information needed to gain a better understanding of the problem.

The report acknowledges that FDA has proposed guidelines for voluntary action by industry.  But, as the report outlines, there are serious concerns that the reliance on a voluntary approach will not lead to real changes in the practice of using antibiotics on healthy animals.  These concerns are compounded by the GAO’s finding that FDA does not collect the data necessary to measure the strategy’s success.  Not only does the strategy rely on the goodwill of industry to solve the problem, but FDA is also making no attempt to find out if the approach will work—even in the face of serious concerns. 

The report comes on the heels of last week’s letter to political leaders from a who’s who list of medical and public health groups, such as the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics, urging immediate action on antibiotic resistance.  The letter emphasized the extensive science linking antibiotic use in animals to risks to human health from antibiotic resistance.  

As FDA continues to delay meaningful action on a problem it recognized as far back as 1977, the unnecessary use of antibiotics on healthy animals continues to create unnecessary and growing risks to public health.  It continues to put the efficacy of lifesaving drugs at great risk.