Donald Kennedy, who served as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from 1977-79, in a letter to the Washington Post advocated limiting the use of antibiotics in poultry and livestock production. Kennedy, like other critics of antibiotic use in animal agriculture, says overuse can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can adversely affect human health.

Kennedy wrote that the agency was first advised during his term to eliminate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, but Congress stopped the effort before it ever began. However, he added that the FDA now appears to take steps in limiting antibiotic use by instituting Guidance for Industry 213, also known as Guidance 213. The voluntary policy would instruct pharmaceutical companies to stop marketing certain antibiotics for animal production purposes. Instead, antibiotics should be used judiciously, focusing on the treatment of animals for various health problems.

"The new guidelines cannot come soon enough," Kennedy wrote in the letter published on August 22. "More antibiotics were sold for use in food animal production in 2011, the last year for which complete data are available, rather than in any prior year. The FDA annually examines bacteria on retail meat and poultry, and each year the bugs show more resistance to antibiotics. …"

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"The FDA should finalize Guidance 213, tell the public how data will be collected to ensure that its voluntary strategy is working and then, if antibiotic misuse continues unabated, apply the full force of regulation. It has been 36 years since the agency moved to restrict injudicious antibiotic practices that threatened the public's health.

Kennedy, now a professor emeritus of environmental science at Stanford University, also suggested in the letter that producers improve crowding and sanitation conditions that make poultry and livestock susceptible to disease. He believes that move will further reduce the need for antibiotics.