Antibiotics, among the great medical breakthroughs of the 20th century, can be life-savers. But when doctors overprescribe them (often because patients demand them) and people take too many of them, they can lose their effectiveness when they’re really needed.
The same holds true for antibiotics routinely given to farm animals that are part of humans’ diet: They render the drugs less effective.
After trying to get farmers and ranchers to voluntarily stop using small amounts of antibiotics as a way to fatten up their cows, pigs and chickens, the Food and Drug Administration last week issued a new rule requiring, for the first time, a veterinarian’s prescription for such drugs. That will be welcome news if it reduces the level of antibiotics absorbed by humans from the meat that they eat — a level that causes an estimated 99,000 fatalities per year from antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.
There’s no reason — other than farmers’ profit motive — for 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in this country to be given to healthy animals. The new rule should result in the drugs only being administered when they’re truly needed — to help sick animals. And while it may create a headache for some farmers in remote areas underserved by veterinarians, it should greatly reduce human health problems.