White House moves to curb use of antibiotics

White House moves to curb use of antibiotics
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The White House is ramping up its push to fight bacteria that is resistant to antibiotics.

Pharmaceutical companies, agricultural companies, and other groups are coming together for a forum at the White House on Tuesday to discuss ways to prevent the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, which fuels the rise of deadly bacteria resistant to medicine. 

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Coinciding with the event, President Obama will sign an executive order calling on the government’s cafeterias to prioritize meat that has been raised with responsible antibiotic practices. 

The FDA will also announce new updates to regulations aimed at ensuring that the use of antibiotics on farms is brought under veterinarians’ supervision. Part of the problem has been the use of antibiotics to make animals grow bigger, rather than to treat infections. 

The Department of Health and Human Services is also moving forward with new regulations for hospitals. 

Drug-resistant bacteria cause two million illnesses and about 23,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

CDC Director Tom Frieden warned on a call with reporters ahead of the forum that drug-resistant bacteria could “undermine much of modern medicine” if steps are not taken to fight back. 

“We risk turning back the clock to a world where simple infections can be fatal, as they were a century ago,” he said, if antibiotics are no longer effective in killing bacteria. 

He said one third to one half of all antibiotic use currently is either unnecessary or overly broad. 

“The single most important thing we can do is for everyone of us to change the way antibiotics are prescribed and used,” Frieden said. 

The White House is also touting commitments from companies like Walmart and McDonald’s that have announced steps to get their suppliers to follow guidelines for safer use of antibiotics. 

The dangers of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” were highlighted earlier this year with the deaths of three people in a Los Angeles hospital from the bacteria known as CRE. 

“CRE are nightmare bacteria that can be resistant to all antibiotics and are spreading in hospitals across the country,” Frieden said. “This is not a phenomenon we've seen before.”