In a new plan released yesterday, the FDA is asking companies to voluntarily reduce some uses of antibiotics in the raising of livestock.

Animals grown for meat are commonly given low doses of antibiotics in their feed and water to help promote growth and prevent the spread of illness in living quarters that are often crowded and unsanitary.   The new guidelines request that animals only be administered these drugs for the purpose of preventing or treating disease, not for growth promotion, due to concerns that the overuse of antibiotics is contributing to the development of drug-resistant bacteria that are  becoming harder to treat.

In a press release, the FDA stated that since “it is well established that all uses of antimicrobial drugs, in both humans and animals, contribute to the development of antimicrobial resistance, it is important to use these drugs only when medically necessary. ”

But the plan contains a major loophole by allowing the meat industry to continue giving animals drugs preventively to ward off illness.  As one blogger put it, “…how can anyone distinguish giving animals small daily doses of antibiotics to prevent disease, from giving them small daily doses to promote growth? The industry can simply claim it’s using antibiotics preventively, and go on about its business—continuing to reap the benefits of growth promotion, and continuing to menace public health by breeding resistance.”

In our own press statement, Consumers Union said,  “Animals should only get antibiotics when they are sick. The use of antibiotics for disease prevention in healthy animals should not be allowable. This inevitably results in overuse, and is not necessary. This is like giving all children antibiotics every day so that they don’t get ear infections.”

The FDA says it will be monitoring the adoption of these new policies over the next three years at which point it will evaluate participation and potentially consider additional action.