WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday finalized a plan that would ask drug companies to voluntarily limit the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed, citing long-held concerns that their overuse in livestock promotes the development of drug-resistant bacteria that can infect people.
Many antibiotics that are widely used to treat human illnesses, such as penicillin, are mixed with animal feed in part to promote rapid growth and weight gain in farm animals. The prevalence of antibiotics in livestock has been linked in several studies to the creation of drug-resistant “superbugs” that can spread to humans who eat, or even work with, the animals.
The FDA is asking drugmakers to stop using 200 products for growth promotion and instead to use them solely to treat and prevent diseases. Companies that opt to do so will be required to revise their product labels to reflect the change. A separate agency proposal would give the companies three months to detail their strategies and three years to adopt them.
Once the drugs are relabeled, those antibiotics would no longer be available to farmers over the counter, as they are now. A veterinarian would have to prescribe them.
The plan attempts to address a decades-long debate about a widely recognized public health hazard with global implications. As scientific evidence has mounted about the dangers of antibiotic resistance, the government has come under pressure to act swiftly. The voluntary path to regulation, supported by many in the drug industry, emerged as an efficient route to coping with the concerns, federal regulators said Wednesday.