If brought to bear, the standards will eliminate the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth (a popular practice on large-scale farms) and require closer veterinary regulation for the administration of antibiotics.
The agricultural antibiotic debate has carried on for decades, but the New York Times reports that the final decision is expected "within months."
Some scientific groups are happy about the momentum, but say that the guidelines aren't enough.
On large-scale farms, antibiotics are often administered to animals shortly after birth. The practice is cost-effective—it preemptively wards off disease and causes animals to require less feed—but it comes with risks. Animals that become accustomed to the drugs can develop antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli and salmonella. Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can then climb the food chain until they land in the bellies of humans. The drug-resistant bacteria also resists human treatments.
Farmers argue that no direct link between farms and human illness has been proved. But leading medical professionals say otherwise.
"Is producing the cheapest food in the world our only goal?” asked Dr. Gail R. Hansen, a veterinarian and senior officer of the Pew Charitable Trusts, as reported by the Times. The Pew Trusts have campaigned for new limits on farm antibiotics. “Those who say there is no evidence of risk are discounting 40 years of science. To wait until there’s nothing we can do about it doesn’t seem like the wisest course.”
Elsewhere, banning antibiotics is old news. The European Union barred most nontreatment uses of antibiotics in 2006, and farmers report adapting with few increased costs.
Denmark has been free of preventative antibiotics for a decade. Farmers there note that less reliance on antibiotics has brought about improved treatment of animals, a win-win for animal rights and human health activists alike.
Photo: WM Jas/Creative Commons via Flickr