Double good news on the bacteria front

Wonkblog brings two pieces of science informing policy– hooray!

First, a more sensible approach to the widespread use of antibiotics and livestock:

This week, the Food and Drug Administration announced new policies to curtail the widespread use of antibiotics in cows, pigs and chickens raised for food…

One reason we’re seeing so many new, resilient bacterial strains — from staph to strep to salmonella — is that we’re overusing the antibiotics we already have, scientists say. This gives bacteria more opportunities to evolve and essentially outsmart these drugs…

There are a number of culprits. Many doctors still over-prescribe antibiotics for their patients. But large farms are another place to look: By some estimates, nearly 80 percent of all antibiotics in the United States are used on livestock, both to control disease and to promote animal growth. The FDA wants to phase out the use of antibiotics for animal growth over the next three years. It’s also proposing greater veterinarian supervision of antibiotics.

Given that this is Wonkblog, there’s a nice thorough rundown of the contreversy and how this policy may work.  Short version– I’d have to say this is far from perfect, but a really, really important step.

Additionally, the FDA is taking on “anti-bacterial” soap.  I don’t know who’s in charge there, but you go guy!

Anti-bacterial soaps pretty much make one promise: Namely, that they will kill bacteria.

Now the Food and Drug Administration says  that they have no evidence that anti-bacterial soaps do any better at stopping the spread of germs than less-glamorous, non-anti-bacterial soaps with no bacteria fighting powers to speak of…

Which is why the FDA put out a preliminary rule today that would require antibacterial soap makers to prove that their soaps do provide a clinical benefit — and one that outweighs the possible risks of regular contact with antibiotics.

“Due to consumers’ extensive exposure to the ingredients in antibacterial soaps, we believe there should be a clearly demonstrated benefit from using antibacterial soap to balance any potential risk,” Janet Woodcock, who directs the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, says in a statement.

Awesome.  It can actually be hard to find handsoap that’s not antibacterial (and given the above facts, that’s what the Greene family tries to purchase when we can find it).

Given the way things are heading, these and other small steps may not be enough, but it is a good thing to see the FDA taking the growing problem of antibiotic resistance seriously.

And on a PS front, this is a great example of how political control of the bureaucracy matters.  The bureaucracy makes a lot of policy.  I’m guessing these changes don’t happen under a Romney administration.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Double good news on the bacteria front

  1. Mike from Canada says:

    And now the bad news again:
    Originally from Kevin Clift:
    ‘Superbugs’ found breeding in sewage plants
    Rice U. study: Two wastewater treatment plants in China fail to kill antibiotic-resistant bacteria

    “We often think about sewage treatment plants as a way to protect us, to get rid of all of these disease-causing constituents in wastewater. But it turns out these microbes are growing. They’re eating sewage, so they proliferate. In one wastewater treatment plant, we had four to five of these superbugs coming out for every one that came in.”

    “Antibiotic-resistant bacteria have been raising alarms for years, particularly in hospital environments where public health officials fear they can be transferred from patient to patient and are very difficult to treat. Bacteria harboring the encoding gene that makes them resistant have been found on every continent except for Antarctica, the researchers wrote.”

    So, no more playing in sewage treatment plants that only use chlorine. Or any body of water that they feed.

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