Reporting from Washington — Meat producers should use certain antibiotics only to assure animal health and stop using the drugs to increase production and promote growth, the Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
The recommendation to cut back on the use of antimicrobial drugs comes amid rising concern that extensive use in animals contributes to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria afflicting humans.
"The development of resistance to this important class of drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness as antimicrobial therapies, poses a serious public health threat," the FDA said in a draft guidance statement.
The FDA guidance applies to antibiotics deemed "medically important" because they also are useful in treating human illness. It calls on meat producers to consult more closely with veterinarians about when to use drugs and which compounds to employ.
The FDA statement upset a leading meat industry group and disappointed a key nonprofit science organization calling for sharper restrictions on the use of antibiotics. The recommendation could fuel legislative efforts to more strictly regulate the use of antibiotics in the food chain.
The National Pork Producers Council said the FDA guidance was overly burdensome and would rob the industry of drugs important to the health of animals.
"There is no scientific study linking antibiotic food use in food animal production with antibiotic resistance," the council said in a statement.
Margaret Mellon of the Union of Concerned Scientists called that assertion "patently untrue. There is a mountain of studies linking the use of antibiotics in animals to the evolution of resistant pathogens that cause human disease."
Mellon chided the FDA for moving tentatively, with recommendations rather than with actions to cut down on the use of antibiotics.
"I was expecting an action plan. I was disappointed that all we have here are principles," Mellon said. "They're apparently expecting voluntary action. It's my belief that the industry's not going to act until it has to."