As part of the continued effort to combat antibiotic resistance, the Obama Administration convened a “White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship” to bring together key human and animal health constituencies involved in antibiotic stewardship—the development, promotion, and implementation of activities to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics. As part of the event, more than 150 food companies, retailers, and human and animal health stakeholders highlighted their commitments to implement changes over the next five years to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and prevent the spread of resistant infections.

In addition, the President signed a memorandum directing Federal departments and agencies to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use. The Presidential Food Service is also committing to serving meats and poultry that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics. Separately, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will announce that it has finalized changes to the Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) regulation, an important piece of FDA’s overall strategy to promote the judicious use of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals as it facilitates bringing the feed-use of such antibiotics under the oversight of licensed veterinarians

The Presidential Memorandum (PM) signed by President Obama directs Federal departments and agencies to create a preference for meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use in the meat supply chain by supporting the emerging market for meat produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies. To achieve this goal, the PM directs a three-tiered, phased approach using Federal purchasing authorities to offer options for meats from animals raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies within Federal agencies’ facilities. Specifically, the three phases include:

  1. Initiating a process within 120 days of issuance of the proposed memorandum to make available meats and poultry from animals raised according to responsible antibiotic-use policies in certain Federal cafeterias. The General Services Administration (GSA), which operates a significant number of Federal cafeterias, will lead this approach, although other departments and agencies may join;
  2. Broadening the availability of meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies for sale in all Federal cafeterias serving civilian Federal employees by 2018 for poultry and 2020 for other meats, not solely those operated by GSA; and
  3. Developing an acquisition strategy for applying a preference by 2020 in Federal acquisitions for meats and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use policies sold or served in all Federal facilities.

National Chicken Council remarks
National Chicken Council Senior Vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., attended the forum. The delivered the following statement:

"Our members, consisting of chicken processors and producers, and allied industry leaders, work together to provide approximately 95 percent of the chicken on America's tables. Chicken producers share the concern and desire to preserve antibiotic effectiveness in both human and animal medicine.

"The top priority of farmers and chicken companies is to raise healthy chickens because healthy chickens are directly related to a safe and wholesome food supply. Responsible, FDA-approved veterinary treatment and prevention benefits animal welfare and health by reducing the need for increased doses of shared-class antibiotics in the event of widespread disease.

"The vast majority of the antibiotics that we use are never used in human medicine. The majority are from a class called ionophores which are used in animals only and are critically important to chicken producers to maintain the gut health of our birds.

"Our industry supports FDA Guidance 209 and 213, and we recognize the responsibility of the industry to implement the recommendations to phase out the use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion. All of our member companies are already eliminating their use for growth promotion and most are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance. We also support FDA's Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), finalized today, as veterinary oversight is important to continued success. Today, all chicken farms are under a health program designed by a licensed veterinarian.

"We are in the business of providing choice in the marketplace, without compromising the health and welfare of our birds or the safety of our products. The chicken industry has been a leader in proactively and voluntarily taking steps toward finding alternative ways to control disease while reducing antibiotic use. Approximately one-third of broiler chicken companies currently produce chicken raised without antibiotics and/or organic chicken products. Many of our members have already made or are making stewardship commitments. We believe this trend will continue. Finding ways to raise chickens without antibiotics is the latest example of an industry committed to innovation. But we can't do that alone; we will continue to partner with animal health companies, veterinarians, our farmers, the FDA and the White House to achieve our shared goals.

"A primary focus of our industry is the welfare of our flocks and we need effective tools to keep them healthy – including, and in addition to, antibiotics to make this happen. True success is determined by a decrease in resistance and ensuring the effectiveness of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine.

"The National Chicken Council looks forward to working with the USDA and FDA to define metrics for success related to antibiotic data collection, and to pursue further research in the area of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic alternatives."

North American Meat Institute seeks to avoid consumer confusion
The North American Meat Institute was one of the stakeholders in attendance. In a previous statement, the association said that it is “committed to continuing those communications efforts, which includes messaging to our consumers, retail and foodservice customers, and the scientific community.” However, NAMI did issue a release noting its concern about certain statements in the White House press release that could confuse consumers. 

The statement says that the “The Presidential Food Service is also committing to serving meats and poultry that have not been treated with hormones or antibiotics.” This statement is concerning for several reasons, NAMI pointed out.

  • No meat or poultry product is “treated” with antibiotics. Livestock and poultry may sometimes be administered antibiotics, but strict federal withdrawal periods and careful federal residue monitoring ensure that meat and poultry derived from animals that received antibiotics are safe for consumers.
  • Antibiotics are federally approved and regulated and can be essential in ensuring animal health and welfare.While the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion is being discontinued, antibiotics are needed because livestock and poultry, like all animals, become sick at certain times and require antibiotics to treat an infection or to prevent or control spread disease among a herd or flock. These antibiotics are approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before they are used. Not utilizing antibiotics when a veterinarian deems it appropriate could pose an animal welfare issue.
  • Announcements about changes in meat and poultry procurement are out of synch with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) analysis.In releasing a 2013 report on antimicrobial resistance, CDC’s Director Tom Frieden, MD, said, “The really most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.” 
  • Hormones are never used in hog and poultry production, although they are approved for cattle. The White House can buy pork and poultry products from animals or birds raised without hormones at any local grocery store and under any brand name.
  • Hormones and antibiotics are quite different in their use and function.The reference to hormones in connection with a summit on antibiotics may confuse consumers.
  • Beef products from both hormone-treated and untreated cattle have far fewer hormones than foods like coleslaw, eggs or tofu.  In fact, no living organism can be “hormone free,” although that phrase is commonly – and erroneously -- used.
  • The Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine approves and oversees the use of both antibiotics and hormones in livestock and poultry. The White House announcement seems to demonstrate a lack of faith in FDA’s approval process and oversight.

“Again, we appreciate the White House’s leadership on this important issue and welcome an opportunity to collaborate,” the association said. “Given the complexity of the issues surrounding antibiotic resistance, we think it is important to be extremely careful how these issues are discussed to ensure that decisions are made based upon the best available science.”

The White House, NCC, NAMI