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Weighing the Effects of Animal Antibiotics

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With newly proposed recommendations targeting the use of antibiotics in livestock, the federal Food and Drug Administration is asking the oft-evolving agriculture industry to adapt yet again.

The FDA's eye is toward reducing instances of drug-resistant bacteria, which the agency says have grown into a major public health threat. The thrust of its policy is to curb the use of many antibiotics that speed the growth of animals used for meat in the U.S. and limit the drugs' uses to preventing, controlling and treating diagnosed illnesses.

The FDA hopes that, at least in the beginning, farmers and drug companies will adopt this strategy voluntarily.

"I think this is the beginning of a process to look into what antibiotics can do or might be doing, and agriculture is on board with it, and the FDA is on board with looking at this and not trying to pull the trigger on something before its time," said Gordon Metz, a longtime cattleman from Henry County.

Proceeding with caution means that questions about scientific interpretations, public health pressure, financial viability and environmental impacts will all likely be part of the FDA's public comment period.

Leaning on national and international research, the FDA says that any use of antimicrobial drugs - which include antibiotics - can spur resistance in both humans and animals and that the drugs must be applied judiciously. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that about 23,000 people die annually because of antibiotic resistance and more than 2 million are sickened. 
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