The Food and Drug Administration will issue two major proposals Wednesday in an effort to cut back on antibiotics used on farms that can spur drug-resistant superbugs, making a final push to limit drugs fed to animals before they’re turned into steaks and pork chops.
The move — just the latest by the agency to tighten regulation of the American food supply — puts drug companies on notice and starts the clock on the Obama administration’s three-year strategy to rein in the use of antibiotics. It comes on the heels of a recent effort to ban trans fats and a handful of other sweeping new food safety regulations.
Antibiotics have become essential to meat producers as they help fatten chickens, pigs and cattle more quickly and keep diseases from spreading among thousands of animals in close quarters. Health advocates, however, have for decades sought stricter limits, arguing that science shows this practice contributes to the growing problem of antibiotic-resistant infections — which now kill 23,000 Americans and rack up millions in added health care costs each year.
Scientists also blame antibiotics’ overuse in human medicine, but — since agriculture consumes the vast majority of antibiotics sold in the U.S. — animal drug use is increasingly under fire. In 2011, nearly 30 million pounds of these drugs were sold for animals, compared to just under 8 million pounds for humans.