Can The New Ban on Livestock Antibiotics Mean Healthier Meat?

By: Allana Mortell

This week, the FDA announced that in order to obtain antibiotics for farm animals, nation-wide farmers and ranchers now require a prescription from a licensed veterinarian. Reason being, officials hope to reduce the inane amount of human deaths that have continued to result from overuse of these same drugs. The connection between farm animals and the overuse of the drugs stems from the growing bacteria that appears after using small amounts of these antibiotics over time. The biggest problem being that since the bacteria is resistant to any effects of the drugs, once humans are infected with said bacteria, they cannot be treated with routine antibiotic therapy.

Eighty percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals and at least 2 million people are sickened and more than 99,000 die every year from hospital acquired infections. Though it is unclear how many of these specific illnesses are resulting from agricultural use of antibiotics, the FDA hopes by regulating such a ban, the number of deaths will reduce significantly over time.

Before this ban, farmers were regularly feeding antibiotics to all livestock, whether it be cattle, pigs or chickens, the ranchers were doing so in hopes the animals would grow larger, which would affect production and price. Michael Taylor, the FDA deputy commissioner for food stated that the restrictions would save human lives because farmers would have to convince veterinarians their animals were "sick" or "at risk of getting a specific illness" in order to obtain the antibiotics.

Because of the potential difficulties farmers could face in getting antibiotics, the use of drugs simply for animal growth will be no longer be allowed. Before this ban, all the antibiotics used in animals were given through various outlets. The biggest majority of antibiotics were given to animals through feed, a smaller amount given through water and the tiniest amount, 3% were given by injection. Since there were no signs of sickness in the animals, farmers continued this process without thoughts of the potential endangerments for humans.

In terms of the drug companies, the FDA is asking drug manufacturers to voluntarily change their labels to now require a prescription. According to the FDA, most companies agreed with no problem.  Now, officials are curious as to how much of an impact these restrictions will particularly have on bacteria-related infections and resulting deaths.

Photo:  freefotouk

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