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FDA to Limit Use of Antibiotics in Farm Animals

Move should help reduce threat of antibiotic resistance in human disease, agency says

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"FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased," he added. "There's no reason why voluntary recommendations will make a difference now, especially when FDA's policy covers only some of the many uses of antibiotics on animals that are not sick. FDA is failing the American people."

But the FDA's Taylor said a voluntary approach could be the fastest way to get results. He explained that any mandatory system would involve a complicated regulatory process that might tie progress up for years.

When an antibiotic becomes resistant to bacteria, it may not be as effective in treating infections and illness. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and resistant strains of C. difficile are two such germs that have spurred outbreaks -- especially among weakened hospital patients -- and generated alarming headlines over the past few years.

The FDA is asking companies to notify them of their intent to adopt the new guidelines over the next three months. The companies would then have three years to complete the labeling changes.

Once that happens, these antibiotics can no longer be used for animal production purposes, and their use to treat and prevent disease in animals will require the oversight of a veterinarian, the agency said.

But Keep Antibiotics Working, a coalition of health, consumer, agricultural, environmental, humane and other advocacy groups, also criticized the FDA for taking a voluntary approach rather than using its legal authority to prevent these drugs from being used in animals.

The group "is happy that the FDA has finalized this document so that we can see whether it actually works," Steven Roach, a senior analyst for Keep Antibiotics Working, said in a statement. "Our fear, however, is that there will be no reduction in antibiotic use as companies will either ignore the plan altogether or simply switch from using antibiotics for routine growth promotion to using the same antibiotics for routine disease prevention," he said.

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