Here’s your good news of the day. The New York Times reports that the Food and Drug Administration has ruled that farmers and ranches will “need a prescription from a veterinarian before using antibiotics in farm animals, in hopes that more judicious use of the drugs will reduce the tens of thousands of human deaths that result each year from the drugs’ overuse.”


How are people dying from the overuse of antibiotics in livestock? The amounts of antibiotics used in livestock lead to “to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to the drugs’ effects, endangering humans who become infected but cannot be treated with routine antibiotic therapy.” This is especially prevalent in hospitals where possibly 99,000 people a year die because their infections are resistant to antibiotics that have been overused in livestock.


It’s crazy, isn’t it? You know what else is crazy? About 80 percent of antibiotics sold in the United States are used on livestock — and a prescription has never been required for the sale of those antibiotics, until now.


The goal of the FDA’s new rule is for farmers and ranchers to have to prove that their livestock are sick and or at risk of getting a severe illness to a veterinarian who will be in charge of prescribing antibiotics. The FDA hopes veterinarians will help curb the use of the antibiotics significantly.


There are some foreseeable problems. One is that although the FDA says it’s requiring a prescription, it is asking drug manufacturers to “voluntarily change their labels to require a prescription.” It’s difficult to see how a new ruling can be both required and voluntary. The FDA has said it will consider a more forceful ban if drug manufactures don’t comply. That just seems backward, doesn’t it?


Another problem is a lack of enough large animal veterinarians in the United States. Dr. Christine Hoang of the American Veterinary Medical Association said some remote or small farmers might have trouble getting easy access to veterinarians.


These are problems, but this is still good news. The FDA has been trying to act on this issue since the 1970s. That’s a long time of knowing there is a problem that needs to be resolved before doing anything about it. This is the biggest step taken so far. Let’s hope the FDA keeps these antibiotics restrictions moving in the right direction.

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