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FDA Trying Voluntary Restrictions on Antibiotics

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Washington, D.C. - The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is trying to get pharmaceutical companies to voluntarily stop providing antibiotics to promote livestock growth.

In a recent meeting with consumer advocates, the agency indicated it is negotiating with one company to remove growth promotion as a labeled use for one antibiotic.

The Obama administration earlier this year proposed to phase out the use of antibiotics to help hogs and other livestock grow more quickly. The administration is concerned that such usage is increasing the prevalence of drug-resistant bacteria that threaten human health.

FDA officials told the consumer advocates it prefers a voluntary approach over the lengthy legal process of restricting the drugs' use, said Steve Roach of Food Animals Concerns Trust.

The agency "seemed quite confident that some company was getting close to doing something," he said.

FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey declined to comment on the discussions with drug makers beyond saying that the agency "indicated we wanted to work with companies, veterinarians and the industry to minimize use of medically important antimicrobials."

Some doubt whether the agency has sufficient scientific basis to force the companies to ban the growth promotion uses, said Ron Phillips, vice president of legislative and public affairs for the Animal Health Institute, a trade group for the drug makers.

But the FDA is still "pursing this diligently. They would like to continue to see progress made on this," said Phillips.

The FDA this month released its first data gathered on the usage of the drugs. The agency said that companies sold 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009 for use in food animals.

Drugs used as growth promotants in hogs include virginiamycin. Pork and turkey producers are among the industries most reliant on antibiotics for growth promotion.

About two-thirds of the drugs sold are similar to antibiotics used in humans.