The plan, unveiled yesterday, aims to limit the use of “medically important” antibiotics in food-producing animals for production gains, such as to enhance growth or improve feed efficiency.
The FDA said it was important to use these drugs “only when medically necessary”, because overuse contributes to antimicrobial resistance, which was considered a “major threat to public health” by governments around the world.
“We need to be selective about the drugs we use in animals and when we use them,” said William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM). “Antimicrobial resistance may not be completely preventable, but we need to do what we can to slow it down.”
As part of the new plan, the FDA will issue guidance to the animal pharmaceutical industry, explaining how companies can work to voluntarily remove growth enhancement and feed indications from the approved uses of their antimicrobial drug products.
Pharmaceutical companies have been asked to notify the FDA within the next three months of their intent to voluntarily make the changes recommended in the guidance, and will then have three years to fully implement the changes.
Once the changes have been made, the affected products will only be available by prescription from a licensed veterinarian to treat, prevent or control disease.
Flynn said the FDA had chosen a voluntary approach because it was the “fastest, most efficient” way to make the changes.
“Based on our outreach, we have every reason to believe that animal pharmaceutical companies will support us in this effort,” said Michael R Taylor, the FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
The FDA first called for a strategy to phase-out the production of medically important antimicrobial products and bring the remaining uses under the oversight of a veterinarian in 2010, with a draft form released in April 2012.
At the time, it was widely criticised by public interest organisations for failing to require legislative changes in the use of antibiotics.
Flynn pointed out that the FDA had worked with associations representing drug companies, the feed industry, livestock producers, veterinarians and consumer groups in developing the plan.
However, the Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) said the FDA was “failing American people” by maintaining a voluntary policy.
“The FDA’s policy is an early holiday gift to industry. It is a hollow gesture that does little to tackle a widely recognised threat to human health,” said NRDC health attorney Avinash Kar.
“The FDA has essentially followed a voluntary approach for more than 35 years, but use of these drugs to raise animals has increased. There’s no reason why voluntary recommendations will make a difference now, especially when the FDA’s policy covers only some of the many uses of antibiotics on animals that are not sick.”