WASHINGTON - Citing a potential threat to public health, the Food and Drug Administration moved yesterday toward phasing out the use of some antibiotics in animals processed for meat.
Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their animals antibiotics regularly to ensure that the animals are healthy, and to facilitate the production process. Now, the agency has announced that it will ask pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for those uses in animal production.
If the companies sign on, use of those antibiotics to promote growth in animals would be illegal and prescriptions would be required to use the drugs for animal illnesses.
The FDA is hoping to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans by decreasing the use of the drugs in animals. Exposure to antibiotics leads to germs that could withstand the drug the next time it is used.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem, and in September the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released sobering estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.
The biggest risk is from germs spread in hospitals, and it's not clear how much of the problem is related to the use of drugs in meat. But consumers have become increasingly concerned about the issue, and the FDA has been debating how to address it for several years.
The new guidance will give the companies three years to comply.