FDA launches plan to curb antibiotic use in animal production

Cattle are held in a pen after being sold at the Abilene Livestock Auction July 26, 2011 in Abilene, Texas.
Scott Olson, Getty Images

Over fears for antibiotic resistance, the Food and Drug Administration is implementing a plan today to phase out antibiotics and other medically important antimicrobial medications in animal foods for production purposes.

These medications are often used in feed or water given to cattle, poultry, hogs and other animals to fatten them up and keep them healthy in crowded barns.

But, some of these medications are important for treating infectious diseases in humans, and some once-treatable ailments are longer responding to antibiotics.

Government researchers in September warned antibiotic-resistant germs kill 23,000 people each year.

Antibiotic resistance is such a major health concern that World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan said last year that she fears that in the future, "things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill.”

The FDA laid out a road map for animal pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily change the labeling on these drugs so they would no longer be used for production purposes. Some of these drugs are sold over-the-counter for farmers and others in food production, and agreeing not to use them for these purposes   would bring them under more oversight. This would mean a manufacturer would need a veterinarian to approve use of the antibiotic.

Again, these changes are voluntary. The FDA is hoping animal pharmaceutical companies will sign on board over the next three months. They would then have three years to implement these changes.


 Why voluntary? The FDA said it’s faster and more efficient than making the rules mandatory. The agency has been meeting with associations that represent drug companies, meat producers and the feed industry to convince them.

“The FDA is leveraging the cooperation of the pharmaceutical industry to voluntarily make these changes because we believe this approach is the fastest way to achieve our goal,” FDA deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine Michael Taylor said in a statement. “Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort.”

The new rule is open for public comment for 90 days, when groups can express any concerns.

“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said Dr. William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) applauded the FDA's decision.

"Today’s FDA announcements are a significant victory for public health that take concrete steps towards accomplishing a goal I have been pushing for in my own legislation—to end the widespread and irresponsible use of antibiotics in agriculture," she said in a statement to CBS News.