Dr. William T. Flynn said agriculture industries need to address concerns and alter their antimicrobial use policies before others—possibly those less knowledgeable of animal agriculture—act for them.
Dr. Flynn, deputy director for science policy for the Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said in a presentation in July that antimicrobials are vital tools for protecting animal health and for producing a safe and abundant food supply. But the use of such drugs, their connection with antimicrobial resistance, and the potential impact of such resistance on human health are enduring topics of consumer and congressional concern.
Dr. Flynn was the last speaker during a symposium on the future of poultry production. The symposium was part of the joint meeting between the American Association of Avian Pathologists and the Poultry Science Association. The groups met in July in St. Louis in conjunction with the AVMA Annual Convention.
Dr. Flynn said consumers and members of Congress have expressed concern particularly about over-the-counter use of antimicrobials, especially when such uses were approved before FDA assessment of the risk of antimicrobial resistance became part of the drug approval process. Members of Congress have proposed legislation to address their concerns related to antimicrobial resistance, and Dr. Flynn said such measures would have uncertain outcomes and collateral effects.
Overall, Dr. Flynn said consumers are becoming less informed about, and less connected to, agriculture, and they are increasingly demanding assurances about the safety of their food. But he thinks agriculture industries still have an opportunity to acknowledge people's concerns, show they are acting on those concerns, preserve their ability to use antimicrobials, and provide clear explanations for practices that should remain the same.
"My concern is that if that agenda isn't set, others who are less informed may set it for us," Dr. Flynn said.
Dr. Flynn noted that the FDA has produced guidance on how agriculture can most judiciously use antimicrobials. The draft guidance, published in June 2010, states that phased-in measures should limit the use in agriculture of antimicrobials important for human medicine, allowing use only when necessary for animal health and when accompanied by veterinary oversight or consultation.