PoliticsUpdated Laws

FDA takes on antibiotics and triclosan

After years of dragging their feet, could it be possible that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making steps forward to protect public health? It depends on who you talk to.


A startling 80% of the antibiotics used in this country administered to animals being raised for consumption (cows, pigs etc). Farmers have used antibiotics to aide in the growth of their livestock for years, resulting in higher profits when they go to market. The antibiotics are commonly added to animal feed and in some cases their water.

In large-scale factory farms, antibiotics are also administered to animals as a preventative measure to stop infection, which can spread quickly from animals living in cramped quarters.

The overuse of antibiotics in our food supply has raised concerns among public health organizations and health professionals. They are concerned about antibiotic resistance, and the emergence of “super bugs” as a result of the overuse of antibiotics.

The FDA’s announcement doesn’t come out of thin air, the health community has been campaigning on this issue for decades, raising concerns about inaction from this federal agency. The more “superbugs” we see in our meat supply that consequently infect and sometimes kill humans, the increased pressure the FDA has felt.

What the FDA announced

The FDA is asking pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop selling antibiotics used in aiding animal growth, with a goal of phasing out growth-promoting antibiotics within three years. As I understand the announcement, the FDA is asking pharmaceutical companies to voluntary stop labeling their antibiotics as being used for aiding in animal growth. Once labeled as such, the livestock industry won’t be able to use them for that purpose.

It doesn’t take long to see some of the loopholes and weaknesses of the FDA’s new program.

The announcement is a small victory since just a few years ago it seemed that the FDA had no interest in making progress on this issue. But some experts say the FDA’s voluntary program doesn’t go far enough and the public’s response is too optimistic.

If history has taught us lessons about the effectiveness of voluntary, non-regulatory programs, it shows a dismal track record. Most voluntary programs – especially when directed at large industries like pharmaceutical, chemical and agriculture sectors – don’t get the job done.

It is my hope that this voluntary program is a baby step towards broader regulatory requirements.

Side note: I don’t think the issue of antibiotic use is as black and white as some may portray. I think there should be sensible use and regulations on the industry’s use of antibiotics in our meat supply. Similarly, I recognize that even small farms sometimes need to treat sick animals. I don’t wish to banish the use of antibiotics completely, but rather reign in the overuse, and abuse of antibiotics for growth and preventative treatment in industrial meat plants.

Triclosan in hand soaps

The pesticide triclosan, has been widely used in many of our consumer products. Toothpaste, antibacterial hand soaps, body washes, cutting boards and yoga mats. Similar to antibiotics, the public health and environmental community has been raising questions about the impacts of this chemical for decades.

Finally, as part of a settlement with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the FDA announced regulatory action on triclosan in hand soap products.

One of the best parts of this small victory is the FDA announced that the use of triclosan does not increase the effectiveness of killing viruses and bacteria. Good ‘ole hand washing with soap and hot water is just as effective.

A classic example of the “oldies but goodies” sometimes still work the best. Here is a DIY recipe for safe, anti-bacterial soap from the blog Overthrow Martha.

What the FDA announced

As a result of a court settlement with NRDC, the FDA announced phasing out the use of triclosan in hand soap products. This win has been a long time coming, the NRDC first filed their petition to the FDA in 1978, and later sued the agency in the mid 1990s.

The good news is this is a regulatory program, unlike the voluntary antibiotic announcement. The bad news is triclosan is still widely used in a variety of products that extend beyond hand soap and hand sanitizers.

More work needs to be done to take a comprehensive approach to regulating toxic chemicals in the products we use everyday. Similarly retailers need to take on the issue of phasing out toxic chemicals moving the market away from toxic chemicals like triclosan. (Join tens of thousands of people in emailing the top ten retailers here.)

What’s next

Our work is never done when it comes to protecting public health and the environment, so naturally there are some next steps. I hope to see more aggressive and regulatory action from the FDA on a variety of issues including the use of antibiotics in our food supply, toxic chemicals in personal care products and cosmetics.

Despite the shortcomings of these two FDA announcements, I’m very encouraged by their steps forward. It makes me hopeful for the work we can collectively do in 2014!

PS- If you’re interested in getting more articles like this, you can join my email list where you’ll get a weekly email (that’s it!) with my latest articles.

Related posts
BeautyBroken LawsPolitics

Which Beauty Ingredients Are Banned By the FDA?

The short and easy answer to this question is…not many. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has…
Read more
BeautyPoliticsUpdated Laws

Congress Passed Major Updates to Cosmetics Safety Laws, the First Since 1938

In the first major update to the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act since the 1930s, Congress sent a bill…
Read more
BeautyBroken LawsPolitics

Myth Busting: Are Beauty Products Regulated for Safety in the U.S.?

Contrary to what you may have heard on social media or elsewhere in online beauty chatter about how…
Read more

Sign up for Weekly Digest, tailored for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *