In late July, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Veterinary Medicine marked a first when it pulled from the market an antibiotic previously approved for use in food animal production.

Lester Crawford, FDA Commissioner, said approval on the use of enrofloxacin (Baytril) for treatment of bacterial infections in poultry was pulled due to concerns about the development of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella being passed to humans through poultry products. The ruling, effective Sept. 12, didn't apply to other approved uses of this drug from the fluoroquinolone class, which includes Cipro, an antibiotic used in human medicine.

Industry sources say use of the antimicrobial is declining in U.S. poultry production these days anyway, due to restrictions on its use by fast-food chains. Nonetheless, it's another popped block in the wall the U.S. livestock industry has long fought to secure against those looking to ban the use of antibiotics in food animal production.

EU's antibiotic ban

On Jan. 6, 2006, a European Union (EU) ban on the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock will take effect. The regulation (1831/2003), which prohibits the use of Monensin sodium, Salinomycin sodium, Avilamycin and Flavophospholipol, “completes the EU's determined drive to phase out antibiotics as growth promoters,” says David Byrne, the EU Commissioner For Health and Consumer Protection from 1999-2004.

Byrne said banning the use of such products is vital to combating anti-microbial resistance, and added there is strong consumer support for the ban in the EU.

If the latter statement sounds familiar, you might recall it's the same argument invoked by the EU when it unilaterally banned the use of growth implants in beef cattle, despite a worldwide scientific consensus on their safety. That was 20 years ago this year.

That 1985 ban essentially shut U.S. beef out of the EU. It represented the loss of a $100-million market to U.S. exporters, mostly in organ meats and offals, which EU consumers relish but which hold little appeal to U.S. consumers.

The U.S. took the case to the World Trade Organization, which finally ruled against the EU in 1998. But the EU ban is still in place, and U.S. beef products are only accepted if they're certified as not being of implanted animal origin.

A few months back, I chatted with Byrne. I asked him if the new policy should worry U.S. producers who might see a touch of déjà vu heading their way.

He said the question hadn't been raised but he sees implants and antibiotics as different because, as he surprisingly put it, “The active ingredient in implants is a carcinogen.” But, he added, “We would hope that there will be a global move to do away with the use of antibiotics in raising livestock.”

More recently, BEEF contributor Meghan Sapp, in Brussels, Belgium, posed the sames question to Philip Tod, EU spokesman for Health and Consumer Protection.

He said that, under the new rules effective in January, “Meat and milk imports will be checked to ensure they respect the EU minimum residue levels for veterinary product residues, and if antibiotic molecules in the products are found to be within these limits, the imports will be accepted.”

Tod said it would be “impossible for the EU to verify whether the traces of antibiotic in the imported meat were due to medicinal or sub-therapeutic use.”

The same could be said about detecting the naturally occurring compounds in implanted cattle. That didn't prevent the EU's so-called hormone ban.