Twenty-five pharmaceutical companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals processed for meat, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
Citing a potential threat to public health, the agency in December asked 26 companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for use in animal production.
The companies will either withdraw the drugs from animal use completely or revise them so they would only be able to be used with a veterinarian's prescription.
Pharmaq AS was the only company that declined to follow the voluntary guidelines. Pharmaq makes an antimicrobial powder used to treat certain conditions in salmon, trout and catfish. The Norwegian company's product already is for therapeutic uses only, but is available over the counter, according to nutritionists.
Many cattle, hog and poultry producers give their animals antibiotics regularly to ensure that they are healthy and to make the animals grow faster.
Withdrawing the animal drugs is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans as that resistance has become a growing public health problem. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drug so that it is no longer effective in treating a particular illness.
In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.
The biggest risk is from germs spread in hospitals, and it's not clear how much of the problem is related to the use of drugs in meat. But the FDA has said this is one step toward addressing the problem.
FDA said it was working with industry on the issue because it was an easier and faster route than the protracted regulatory process. Two of the largest companies selling such animal antibiotics, Zoetis and Elanco, said they would comply.
Critics argue that the guidelines give drugmakers too much discretion in policing their own use of antibiotics and provide no mechanism for enforcement, and were unconvinced by Wednesday's announcement.