FDA restricts some antibiotics in livestock

The FDA has placed new restriction on antibiotics in livestock, aiming to protect the potency of some high-powered drugs. After weighing evidence that agricultural drug use might spawn drug-resistant bacteria, the agency said cephalosporins, including such drugs as Bristol-Myers Squibb's ($BMY) Cefzil and Eli Lilly's ($LLY) Keflex, can no longer be used routinely in cattle, pigs, chickens and turkeys.

By agency estimates, 80% of antibiotics in the U.S. are given to animals, not humans, and most of them are administered in bulk via feed or water. Scientists argue that bacteria develop defenses in the presence of these drugs, and public health officials have grown concerned by increasing numbers of bacteria resistant to treatment. FDA has been mulling restrictions on animal antibiotic use for years, and did set some limits on the use of super-powerful fluoroquinolones. But the agency has found itself between a rock and a hard place--or, shall we say, between the ag lobby on one side and public-health advocates on the other.

The cephalosporin restrictions are limited; they ban large doses of the drugs in cattle and pigs, for instance, and forbid routine use as infection preventers in chickens. But they still allow the drugs to be used to treat sick animals, even off-label, The New York Times reports, and allow broad treatment in animals that aren't typically produced on an industrial scale, such as ducks and rabbits. The rules are less onerous for farmers and ranchers than guidelines proposed in 2008 would have been.

Up next, the FDA says: Final consideration of rules limiting penicillin and tetracycline use to promote growth or prevent illness. First proposed in 2010, those restrictions are extremely unpopular in the ag business, but are considered essential by some public health groups.

- see the NYT piece
- get more from Reuters
- check out the NPR coverage
- read the Time blog post