The Pew Charitable Trusts Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming has published an issue brief concluding that gaps in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA’s) guidance for antibiotic use in livestock have allowed “some injudicious practices to persist.” Released in December 2013, FDA Guidance for Industry #213 aims to combat antibiotic-resistant bacteria by restricting the use of antibiotics in food animals for growth promotion. To this end, the agency asked drug companies to remove “feed efficiency” and “weight gain” indications from product labels and required veterinary oversight when these drugs are added to feed or water.

After reviewing all 287 antibiotics affected by Guidance #213, Pew researchers reported that approximately one-quarter of these drugs “can be used in at least one species of livestock (chickens, turkeys, pigs or cattle) for disease prevention at levels that are fully within the range of growth promotion dosages and with no limit on the duration of treatment.” In addition, the guidance does not restrict weight maintenance indications on labels if presented in the context of treating disease.

In the absence of a clear distinction between the appropriate and inappropriate use of antibiotics for disease prevention, the Pew analysis thus recommends that FDA (i) provide a detailed plan “for monitoring and publicly reporting total antibiotic use in food animals,” (ii) “establish a clear target for reduction of total antibiotic use in food animals,” and (iii) “outline a process and a timeline for reviewing the adequacy of disease prevention label claims to ensure that they effectively prevent bacterial infection and are not used longer than necessary.”