Skeptics scoffed late last year when the
So far, the results are much rosier. In just the last four months, 25 of the 26 pharmaceutical companies that make antibiotics that are important for human as well as veterinary treatment have agreed to new drug labels prohibiting their use for growth promotion in livestock. (The 26th company is a small firm that caters to the fish farming industry.) In addition, the drugs must be prescribed by a veterinarian rather than sold over the counter; that will end the practice of adding them to feed.
It's an extraordinary achievement for the FDA, which had issued the voluntary rules in an attempt to avoid the years-long delays involved in proposing new rules with teeth. But its work isn't done yet.
Agricultural antibiotics can still be prescribed for disease prevention, and that's not a problem as long as it's done judiciously. If some cattle have been exposed to a highly infectious disease, for example, it makes sense to treat the animals around them or perhaps the whole herd. Such prescriptions are supposed to have defined start and end dates so they don't become a substitute for bad animal husbandry practices.
The problem is that rogue veterinarians could decide to make their living as prescription mills for feedlots they've never even visited. At this point, the FDA needs some clear rules for veterinarians, including a requirement that they visit the farms they prescribe for at least occasionally. Oversight will be needed to ensure that prescriptions to prevent disease are written only when needed, and for limited periods of time.