For more than two decades, farmers have been using antibiotics to help plumpen their livestock. Problem is, the same medications used to help bulk up cows, pigs, and chickens are also used to treat humans when they get sick. Thus, the popular food-production practice has contributed widespread resistance to antibiotics. But that's all about to change. This week, the Food and Drug Administration implemented a new policy that will phase out the use of antibiotics for growing livestock—and make meat safer for Americans to consume.
The change is set to occur over the next three years and will prohibit farmers and ranchers from putting antibiotics in animals' feed in order to make them grow bigger. The policy will force food producers to obtain prescriptions from a veterinarian and use the drugs for disease-prevention purposes only. (Right now, the antibiotics can be purchased over the counter.)
From a public health perspective, the new rules may help reduce the number of deaths caused by antibiotic resistance. According to an FDA report out earlier this year, 81% of all ground turkey, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef, and 39% of chicken that the agency tested contained antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and each year, approximately two million Americans become ill and 23,000 die from antibiotic-resistant infections.
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