Washington Insider -- Monday

Antibiotic Use for Livestock

Here’s a quick monitor of Washington farm and trade policy issues from DTN’s well-placed observer.

US Ag Exports Post Solid Rise In October

The value of U.S. ag exports rose to $12.19 billion in October, up 18% from September and the highest since May. Ag Imports rose to $10.9 billion, up 15% from September when they were at $9.46 billion. That put the U.S. ag trade surplus at $1.29 billion, the first surplus above $1 billion since June.

U.S. ag imports have now been at $10 billion or more for 12 of the past 13 months, with the September mark under $10 billion the first in a year. Those values were at $10 billion or more each month in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 except for September when they slipped back under that level. Until FY 2018, ag import values had never posted a run of 11 months at $10 billion or more.

October 2017 figures saw U.S. ag exports valued at $13.21 billion against imports of $10.44 billion for a trade surplus of $2.763 billion. In Fiscal Year 2018, U.S. ag exports totaled $143.37 billion against imports of a record $127.56 billion for an ag trade surplus of $15.81 billion.

USDA in FY 2019 sees exports falling to $141.5 billion while imports are expected at $127 billion, just missing the record mark from FY 2018. USDA expects the U.S. ag trade surplus at $14.5 billion.

That would mark the smallest U.S. ag trade surplus since FY 2012. The overall U.S. trade picture was not as rosy in October, with a trade deficit at a 10-year high of $55.5 billion.

Intellectual Property Rights to be ‘Major Subject’ of China Talks

The U.S. has had enormous concerns for years "about the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property to engage in forced technology transfers, and to be used, really, as arms of the Chinese government's objectives in terms of information technology in particular,” U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said in an interview with National Public Radio. "Huawei is one company we've been concerned about," Bolton said. "There are others as well. I think this is going to be a major subject of the negotiations that President Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed to in Buenos Aires."

Huawei Technologies' Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou is scheduled to appear in a Vancouver, Canada, court on Monday for a bail hearing as she awaits possible extradition to the United States. The arrest in Canada of Meng came at the U.S. request over indications that the firm has run afoul of sanctions against Iran.

Washington Insider: Antibiotic Use for Livestock

A delegation of U.S. government officials is poised to begin meetings to hash out international guidelines for use of antibiotics in farm animals, Bloomberg is reporting.

However, even at this early stage, Bloomberg reports that the working draft of the group’s report is “causing an uproar because it appears to be weaker than current U.S. policy,” which allows such drugs to prevent or treat diseases in livestock but not for general growth promotion.

On Friday, four U.S. senators and one House member, all of them Democrats, raised concerns about the draft in a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, whose employees are participating in the negotiations.

“We urge you to ensure that the U.S. opposes the use of medically important antibiotics in animals for growth promotion without exception when this committee meets next week,” says the letter, which is signed by Senators Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.

The issue is almost impossibly difficult. The U.S. is leading the antibiotics working group at Codex Alimentarius, an international commission that seeks to protect consumers and fair trade by adopting food standards, codes of practice and other guidelines. The Codex Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance will begin meeting in Korea on Monday.

However, the working draft of the group’s nonbinding recommendations includes what critics describe as a loophole to allow “medically important” antibiotics to be used on livestock for growth promotion, a practice now banned by the Food and Drug Administration.

Both USDA the FDA say that such antibiotics shouldn’t be used for growth promotion. In a letter last week to an advocacy group, William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, acknowledged that the wording of the draft had “created some confusion and uncertainty around the concept that medically important antimicrobials should not be used for growth promotion.”

Flynn wrote that his agency supports “efforts to eliminate such uses worldwide.” The FDA didn’t respond to requests to make Flynn available for an interview.

Overuse of antibiotics in animals and humans has caused some medicines to lose effectiveness, prompting calls to curb non-essential uses. The extent that antibiotic use in farm animals affects human health remains open to debate, as does how best to address the problem of overuse.

In 2017, the FDA banned the use of medically important antibiotics to promote growth. Under the new policy, such drugs require a veterinary prescription and can be used only to treat, control or prevent disease.

The draft proposal for Codex says that “responsible and prudent administration” of medically important antibiotics in livestock doesn’t include using it for growth promotion, unless a risk analysis is “undertaken” by an appropriate national regulatory authority. Critics have labeled this exception a loophole.

In addition, in the latest set of proposals, the U.S. suggested making a change that would require only that such an analysis be “guided” by a regulator, said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumer Reports, a consumer advocacy group.

“Basically it’s saying, ‘Let the companies do it,’” Hansen said. “It’s just crazy.”

A similar word change was proposed by HealthforAnimals, an industry trade group whose members include companies that sell animal drugs, he said. Asked about the change, Sally Gifford, a spokeswoman for the USDA’s Codex office, said, “Some nations’ governments have expressed concern that they do not have the capability to conduct their own risk assessments. The word change under consideration would be a response to those concerns.”

Last year, the World Health Organization issued its own recommendations for antibiotic use in livestock, calling for an end to giving medically important antibiotics routinely to healthy animals to promote growth or prevent disease. The agency said such drugs should be administered only to sick animals or healthy ones being raised near them.

That drew a sharp response from the USDA, which said the WHO’s effort was based on shoddy science and excluded input from the U.S. and other countries.

A few months earlier, in September 2017, USDA's Perdue announced that he was moving his agency’s Codex office out of its food safety agency and into a newly formed trade office. That drew criticism from some advocacy groups and an unusual rebuke from the FDA.

“FDA strongly believes that moving Codex to the oversight of a trade promoting, non-science organization could undermine the credibility of U.S. Codex as a science-based enterprise,” wrote Stephen Ostroff, deputy commissioner for food and veterinary medicines.

The large-scale access of antibiotics by agriculture to protect animal health is seen as important to the industry, but the increase in antibiotic resistance is widespread and growing, experts say, and a major concern for the U.S. health industry. The U.S. partial restriction on antibiotic use for livestock was seen by many as a major step forward, but criticized by others as insufficient. This is an important debate, and should be watched closely by producers as it intensifies, Washington Insider believes.

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