Saturday, April 08, 2006

Dogs, birds but no bird dogs

Back in December we discussed the use in dogs by some veterinarians of the influenza A antiviral oseltamivir (Tamiflu) during an outbreak of H3N8 influenza. There was also considerable consternation in the global public health community that the Chinese had apparently been using another antiviral, amantadine, in poultry for some years, although it was never officially sanctioned (WaPo). Both were "off label" uses of these drugs, but not surprising. Pets are dear to their owners and poultry farmers can be wiped out by a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus like H5N1 and are under pressure to do whatever is necessary in a crisis.

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) clearly recognizes this. They also have heard the warnings of public health experts that widespread use of influenza antivirals in animals might hasten the development of resistance, not to mention affect the current supply scarcity. On March 20, FDA published a final rule prohibiting the extralabel use in poultry of either class of influenza antivirals (M2 blockers like the adamantanes or neuriminidase inhibitors like Tamiflu). FDA says they have no evidence that such veterinary use is occurring in the US but they are issuing the rule as a preventive order. Use of human drugs in animals is legal under the Animal Medicinal Drug Use Clarification Act of 1994 (AMDUCA), but can also be prohibited if it presents a danger to public health. It is this clause that is being invoked in the March 20 announcement.

What isn't at all clear is why FDA doesn't invoke the same provisions to ban the use of antibiotics in animal feed. In 2005 they made a start by banning Batril (enrofloxacin) in poultry (.pdf) but there is a long way to go. The evidence for a threat to public health is abundant, has been documented many times and is one of the scandals of US agribusiness and their pliable lapdogs at USDA and FDA. The March 20 rule on antivirals in poultry makes good public health sense. The arguments would seem many fold stronger regarding general use of antibiotics in animal feed.

Instead the FDA continues to give public health "the bird" on this score.

For our non-American readers, "the bird" is a colloquial expression for an obscene handgesture involving the upward vertical extension of the middle digit of the hand. Roughly translated: "Good morning, Secretary Rumsfeld."