WASHINGTON, May 20, 2015 – A new, comprehensive discipline in the use of antibiotics for animals will apply to all animal care by the end of next year.

Its arrival is owing largely to new Food and Drug Administration guidelines that many drug companies and producers are already implementing, involving 280 antimicrobials considered important to human health. The guidelines mean such drugs will all be labelled strictly to treat and prevent disease, and no longer to accelerate weight gain. Further, their future uses will come under the exclusive supervision of a veterinarian. December 2016 marks the end of a three-year phase-in of those tighter controls on animal antibiotics. What's more, cheek by jowl with the new rules is an FDA Veterinary Feed Directive, to be finalized within weeks. It’ll impose similar disciplines for antibiotics given to livestock in their feed or water.

The rules have been in the offing since about 1970, when scientists and regulators started to raise concerns that excessive farm use of antibiotics critical to human health can speed resistance of some dangerous pathogens to those drugs. FDA started pushing for the current set of changes five years ago and, within months, had all 25 makers of U.S. animal drugs in general support. And some food industry giants are already on board. McDonald’s, for example, recently declared it will soon buy no meat from animals treated with medically important antibiotics.

Meanwhile, some livestock owners, especially those without easy access to a veterinarian and are used to buying animal antibiotics over the counter, may need to prepare for arrival of the new restrictions. For example, Larry Granger, a leader in USDA's Antimicrobial Resistance Program, says a Southern rancher who's used to putting antibiotics in water during the summer to fight anaplasmosis (a wasting disease spread by ticks) will have to get a vet to approve the treatment before a pharmacy will dispense the drug.

To ensure producers’ awareness of what's ahead and to help them adjust where necessary, the  Farm Foundation held an experts' roundtable discussion (which you can access here) of the changes, and will hold 10 public forums across the country for producers this summer and fall.

National farmer and rancher groups have questioned the need for the FDA's broader regulatory reach but aren't fighting it much, in part because overuse of antibiotics can ruin their effectiveness for farm animals as well as for people. Besides, large poultry, swine and beef and dairy cattle operations typically hire their own vets, so they will be able to readily access needed antibiotics under the new rules. In the vertically integrated commercial chicken meat sector, for example, “every chicken company already employs veterinarians who oversee every flock's health," notes Tom Super of the National Chicken Council.

Grady Bishop, representing Elanco Animal Health, a top maker of animal health products, says the animal health industry, veterinarians and producers will readily respond to tighter rules on medically important antibiotics by adopting alternatives: using antibiotics intended for animals only, such as ionophores, a class of antibiotics never used on humans; using vaccines, enzymes or other products; or finding new animal husbandry practices to prevent or treat diseases.

Improving animal nutrition and breeding animals for resistance are other options for producers, says Cheri De Jong, co-owner of a big dairy farm in Hartley, Texas. Further, she notes, dairy farms accounting for 90 percent of U.S. milk now participate in Farmers Assuring Responsible Management, a program that sets protocols for all milk cow health care and includes detailed records of antibiotic treatments, easing demand for veterinarians' time in caring for herds.


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