Feds Issue New Rule on Antibiotic Use in Livestock

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In a much-anticipated new rule unveiled Wednesday, the Food and Drug Administration said that farmers and ranchers will now need, for the first time, a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals.

The FDA said the rule is aimed at reducing the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the overuse of antibiotics. According to the agency, at least 2 million people are sickened and an estimated 99,000 die every year from hospital-acquired infections, the majority of which result from such resistant strains. While it is unknown exactly how many illnesses and deaths result from agricultural uses of antibiotics, about 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals - primarily through feed.

According to the New York Times, most drug manufacturers have compelling reasons to cooperate with the rule. The vast majority of their profits come from the human marketplace, and according to the Times, "any company seen to undermine human health could earn doctors' approbation and potentially hurt their most important business."

In an April 2011 investigation, BW reported how the FDA considered the amount of antibiotics and other drugs found in a number of Idaho livestock was "an important potential public health issue."