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25 firms to cut use of drugs in meat

WASHINGTON — 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 said Wednesday.

Citing a potential threat to public health, the agency in December asked 26 companies to voluntarily stop labeling drugs important for treating human infection as acceptable for use in animal production. The FDA did not name the one company that has not agreed to withdraw or revise its drugs.

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The companies will either withdraw the drugs from animal use completely or revise them so they could only be used with a veterinarian’s prescription.

Many cattle, hog, and poultry producers give their animals antibiotics regularly to ensure they are healthy and to make the animals grow faster.

Withdrawing the animal drugs is designed to limit antibiotic-resistant diseases in humans as that resistance has become a growing public health problem. Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drug, rendering it no longer effective in treating a particular illness.

In September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released estimates that more than 23,000 people a year are dying from drug-resistant infections.

The biggest risk is from germs spread in hospitals, and it’s not clear how much of the problem is related to the use of drugs in meat. But the FDA has said this is one step toward addressing the problem.

FDA said it was working with industry on the issue because it was an easier and faster route than the protracted regulatory process.

Two of the largest companies selling such animal antibiotics, Zoetis and Elanco, said they would comply.

The FDA said the 25 companies represent 99.6 percent of the supply the agency is targeting.

Consumers increasingly have demanded antibiotic-free meat.

McDonald’s, among other companies, has moved to limit the drugs in their meat, pursuading many animal producers to end use of such drugs.

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