WSU antibiotic resistance expert cautious about FDA proposal

Call-D-2011-80PULLMAN, Wash. – The three-year phase-out of food animal antibiotic uses and over-the-counter antibiotic sales proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration raises questions from an expert at Washington State University.

“Removing antibiotics from non-therapeutic uses in U.S. food-animal production seems reasonable at first glance, but there could be unintended consequences,” said Douglas Call, a professor of molecular epidemiology in the Paul G. Allen School for Global Animal Health at WSU.

These consequences include “increased production costs and food prices, shifts in consumer preference for unregulated and cheaper imports, production shifts to unregulated areas of the world resulting in domestic job loss, and increased need for food safety testing for imported products,” he said.

“Antibiotic resistance is a very complex issue that requires attention to antibiotic use in human medicine, veterinary medicine and agriculture,” said Call, who researches alternatives to antibiotics and studies the role that excreted antibiotics play in maintaining antibiotic-resistant bacteria on farms.

“In the final analysis it is uncertain if banning antibiotics used for growth promotion will translate into any public health benefit,” he said. “It is just as likely that finding ways to decrease the demand for antibiotics will accrue benefits with less chance of unintended consequences.”

Call also conducts research in Tanzania concerning the ecology of antibiotic resistance and plans additional collaborative research in Kenya.

The FDA last week finalized recommendations asking animal drug manufacturers to voluntarily alter their labels so farmers could no longer use antibiotics to speed livestock growth. The agency also wants to curb over-the-counter sales of antibiotics and require farmers to get approval from veterinarians before administering the drugs to livestock.



Douglas Call, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine, 509-335-6313,

Charlie Powell, WSU College of Veterinary Medicine communication, 509-335-7073,