TUESDAY, June 2, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- A new regulation aimed at stopping routine use of antibiotics in food-producing animals was issued Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Giving antibiotics to cattle, hogs, poultry and other farm animals to fatten them up contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance in people, the agency said.
The Veterinary Feed Directive final rule -- the new regulation in a plan rolled out over several years -- will place the use of antibiotics in feed under veterinary supervision so the drugs are given only when necessary for the health of food-producing animals.
"The actions the FDA has taken to date represent important steps toward a fundamental change in how antimicrobials can be legally used in food-producing animals," Michael Taylor, FDA deputy commissioner for foods, said in an agency news release.
"The [Veterinary Feed Directive] takes another important step by facilitating veterinary oversight in a way that allows for the flexibility needed to accommodate the diversity of circumstances that veterinarians encounter, while ensuring such oversight is conducted in accordance with nationally consistent principles," he said.
The directive provides veterinarians with guidelines for authorizing the use of medically necessary antibiotics. They should have sufficient knowledge of the animal by making examinations and/or visits to the facility where the animal is located, and provide any necessary follow-up evaluation or care, according to the agency.
Bacteria-fighting antibiotics have been added to the feed of farm animals to help them gain weight faster, not for medical reasons.
"The problem is that all use of antimicrobials, in humans and animals alike, generally contributes to the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria, considered a global threat to public health," Taylor and his colleagues said.
"Drug-resistant strains of bacteria could be fatal if they enter the human body through uncooked or improperly cooked food and the medicines created to combat them are rendered ineffective," they explained.
In the United States each year, more than 2 million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die as a result, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The veterinary directive, which applies to all antibiotics used to treat human disease, takes effect at the end of 2016.
In late 2013, the FDA asked manufacturers of antibiotics used in the feed and water of food-producing animals to make voluntary labeling changes. The drug makers were urged to stop saying the drugs can improve animal growth and to highlight the need for veterinary oversight when the drugs are used to treat health problems in the animals.
All of the companies gave written commitments to follow those recommendations, the FDA said.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about antibiotic use and resistance.