Twenty-five pharmaceutical companies are voluntarily phasing out the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals processed for meat, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said Wednesday.  Those companies represent 99.6 percent of the supply the agency is targeting.  FDA said there is widespread commitment within the industry to comply with the agency’s voluntary request to phase out the growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics.  The companies will either withdraw the drugs from animal use completely or revise them so they would only be able to be used with a veterinary oversight.

FDA first proposed a plan in December that asked major drug makers to remove growth promotion claims on their products labels, effectively making it illegal to prescribe the drugs to livestock for anything other than medical reasons. The development announced Wednesday clears a major hurdle in the FDA’s push to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans, which is a growing public health issue.   The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has estimated that more than 23,000 people a year die from drug-resistant infections.  However, it is not clear what role the use of antibiotics in animal production may play or to what extent, and the issue remains controversial.

FDA stated it anticipates the new policy will be fully phased in over the next three years.  FDA will still need to issue a final rule on proposed changes to the veterinary feed directive, which is the mechanism used to ensure veterinary oversight of products used in feed.

“FDA’s collaborative stakeholder process works,” said Animal Health Institute (AHI) President and CEO Alexander S. Mathews in a statement from AHI and the Generic Animal Drug Alliance. “By working cooperatively with stakeholders, FDA has achieved a significant change in the way antibiotics are to be used in animal agriculture that we believe will avoid unintended consequences.  We hope this change in regulation and control will increase consumer confidence and lead to a more productive discussion about animal welfare, sustainability, and public health,” the statement said.