Obama administration proposes new effort to curb antibiotic use on US farms

The documents include:

• Final guidance recommending that industry phase out the use of "medically important drugs" to promote faster livestock and poultry growth and phase in veterinary oversight of their use to treat sick animals;

• Draft guidance to assist drug companies in voluntarily removing production uses of antibiotics from their FDA-approved product labels; and

• Draft regulations that outline ways that veterinarians can authorize the use of certain animal drugs in feed.

The guidance, three years in the making, was immediately praised by public health groups.

"This is the most sweeping action the agency has undertaken in this area, as this covers all antibiotics used in meat and poultry production that are important to human health," said Laura Rogers, director of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming. 

Still, Rogers cautioned, the guidance is only voluntary and more steps may be needed if it's not effective.

"There are some gaps in these measures that we will urge FDA to address and, because this is voluntary, we will have to monitor antibiotic usage and resistance rates carefully," she added. "If these measures do not bring down antibiotic use and drug-resistant bacteria, then FDA will have to take additional steps."

For their part, the farm and drug industries raised some concerns.

The National Pork Producers Council questioned the guidance's rationale and said it would disproportionately hurt small and rural farmers who don't have easy access to veterinarians to oversee their use of antibiotics.

"The guidance could eliminate antibiotic uses that are extremely important to the health of animals," council President R.C. Hunt said in a statement. "FDA did not provide compelling evidence nor did it state that antibiotics use in livestock production is unsafe."

The animal drug industry said it agreed with the "direction" the FDA was headed in but that details needed to be ironed out to make the approach "practical and workable."