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FDA reports progress controlling pharma on the farm

Antimicrobials are often used to fatten hogs faster within a tightly controlled confinement barn. New FDA guidance asks companies to bar that practice. (Creative Commons)
Antimicrobials are often used to fatten hogs faster within a tightly controlled confinement barn. New FDA guidance asks companies to bar that practice. (Creative Commons)

Federal regulators say progress has been made in limiting antibiotics given to food animals.

Twenty-five of 26 pharmaceutical companies that produce antibiotics for livestock and poultry around the nation, including Archer Daniels Midland Nutrition Alliance and Bayer, have agreed to comply with new guidance from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that would make it illegal to use antimicrobials in livestock feed to promote faster growth, according to the FDA. The Associated Press reports the 25 companies represent 99.6 percent of the supply the agency is targeting.

The main concern is that antibiotics provided routinely in low doses to animals like pigs and cows kill off most bacteria, but leave drug-resistant bacteria that can jump to humans, potentially making us more vulnerable to sometimes lethal "superbug" infections.

The Food and Drug Administration in December 2013 asked pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop labelling “medically important” drugs  as acceptable for use in animal feed as growth promoters.

The new guidelines will restrict how these drugs are legally added to feed, but won’t phase out their use altogether, says K. Douglas Miller, a spokesman for Elanco Animal Health, one of the 25 companies agreeing to the change.

“If we do all the other things correctly, such as on-farm hygiene, nutrition, enzymes, vaccination programs…we will minimize the need for antibiotics,” Miller said. “But we will never get to a point where we won't need them, because disease will always be present.”

Livestock producers seeking such drugs in the future will need to consult with a livestock veterinarian and obtain a prescription. 

Antibiotics remain "one more tool,” Miller said, in his company's "toolbox".