News last update:6 Aug 2012

FDA wants drug companies to help limit antibiotic use in livestock

The US's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have made recommendations that calls on the drug commpanies to help limit the antibiotics given to farm livestock.

Scientists have long being warning of the consequences of using antibiotics on healthy animals. They believe it leads to the growth of antibiotic-resistant germs that can be passed to humans.

However the FDA has struggled for decades with how to tackle the problem because the powerful agriculture industry says the drugs are a key part of modern meat production.

Under the new guidelines, the agency recommends antibiotics be used "judiciously," or only when necessary to keep animals healthy. The agency also wants to require a veterinarian to prescribe the drugs. They can currently be purchased over-the-counter by farmers.

"Now you have a veterinarian who will be consulting and providing advice to these producers, and we feel that is an important element to assure that they are in fact using these drugs appropriately," said William Flynn, a deputy director in FDA's veterinary medicine center.

The draft recommendations are not binding, and the agency is asking for drug manufacturers' cooperation to put the limits in place. Drug companies would need to adjust the labelling of their antibiotics to remove so-called production uses of the drugs. Production uses include increased weight gain and accelerated growth, which helps farmer save money by reducing feed costs. The FDA hopes drugmakers will phase out recommendations for those uses within three years.

But the voluntary approach was met with skepticism by some public health advocates, who said they do not trust the drug industry to voluntarily restrict its own products.

"This is not an issue where trust should be the measure. This is an issue where the measure is whether or not the FDA has fulfilled its authority of protecting public health," said Richard Wood, Chair of the Keep Antibiotics Working coalition, in a statement.

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