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Factory farms adding antibiotics to livestock feed indiscriminately will have to look for other options to boost animal weight as the FDA has pushed forward plans to phase out the controversial practice that’s connected with a growing antibiotic resistance problem.

According to the New York Times, the decision marks the agency’s “first serious attempt in decades to curb what experts have long regarded as the systematic overuse of antibiotics in healthy farm animals, with the drugs typically added directly into their feed and water.”

Antibiotics have become increasingly ineffective. The “wonder drugs of the 20th century” is now little more than “a looming threat to public health,” reports the Times. “At least two million Americans fall sick every year and about 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.”

The FDA’s new rules will begin to take effect over the next three years, and will, in essence, make it illegal to feed animals antibiotics to speed weight gain. The Times notes that producers had found that “feeding low doses of antibiotics to animals throughout their lives led them to grow plumper and larger,” but scientists “still debate why.”

In addition, farmers will need veterinary prescriptions if antibiotics will be distributed to animals in order to prevent diseases, many of which are common in factory farm settings where animals are crowded together into small areas. “Food producers said they would abide by the new rules,” reports the Times, “but some public health advocates voiced concerns that loopholes could render the new policy toothless.”

Antibiotic effectiveness in humans could improve as a result of the new rules. Drugs including penicillin, azithromycin and tetracycline, which have a history of saving millions of lives, have become ineffective at treating some common ailments in recent years. The World Health Organization has called this the “post-antibiotic era,” as a result of the inefficiency of common antibiotics.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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