Feds pull approval of poultry antibiotic

The Food and Drug Administration is about to prohibit poultry farmers from treating chickens and turkeys with the antibiotic enrofloxacin. Use of the antibiotic, whose trade name is Baytril, is leading to the emergence of microbes in the birds’ meat that resist several antibiotics used to treat food poisoning in people, the agency says.

On the market for 9 years, the drug has become decreasingly effective against Campylobacter, which causes gut-wrenching illness in people. Farmers use the antibiotic in poultry to control other bacteria, but most birds have asymptomatic Campylobacter infections. When exposed to enrofloxacin, those microbes develop resistance to some antibiotics.

In a July 28 announcement on the drug, FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford noted that Campylobacter is the leading bacterial food poisoning agent in the United States, making some 1.9 million people sick each year. He said that FDA’s objective is to keep the germs vulnerable to enrofloxacin and other antibiotics in the class known as fluoroquinolones. That strategy would preserve the effectiveness of treatments that can shorten the duration of a Campylobacter infection, reduce its symptoms, diminish the chance of complications that can include even death, and limit the infection’s spread among people, according to FDA.

Fluoroquinolone-resistant Campylobacter has been turning up in supermarket poultry, noted Crawford. The ban on the drug’s use in poultry is set to begin Sept. 12.

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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