The Food and Drug Administration has started an initiative to curb the use of antibiotics in livestock destined for our dinner plates. Hoping to slow down the progress of terrifying antibiotic-resistant bacteria, the agency implemented a set of voluntary guidelines for animal pharmaceutical companies to remove antibiotics used for growth enhancement and feed efficiency and reserve their use only when medically necessary for an animal.
Drugs previously available over-the-counter would also be reclassified under the Veterinary Feed Directives (VFD), which would require authorization from a licensed veterinarian for use on livestock.
These so-called "medically important" antibiotics have been used in animal feed and drinking water for decades to make livestock grow faster, a result that the FDA admits it does not fully understand. Because of this overuse, bacterium have developed a resistance, creating the superbugs that make their way into our food. Humans also develop a kind of immunity to antibiotics when they eat the drugged-up animal flesh, meaning it'll be even harder to cure your strep throat in the decades to come.
“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” says William Flynn, DVM, MS, deputy director for science policy at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”
Pharmaceutical companies have three months to state their intent to the agency and then three years to fully implement the new changes. Detractors say the guidelines should have been made mandatory, but the agency believes the voluntary program will be faster and more efficient than a compulsory ban on this type of antibiotic use. "Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort," says Michael R. Taylor, FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine. Indeed, many already have, with major meat companies like Smithfield, Cargill and Tyson already releasing lines of antibiotic-free meat. Hopefully that label carries more weight than other non-regulated buzzwords.