Industry groups said after the announcement that they opposed the limits and argued there isn't enough evidence that their antibiotic use is unsafe. Kristina Butts of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association said antibiotic resistance is a complex issue and "the top priority for cattle producers is to raise healthy cattle because healthy cattle are the foundation of a safe, wholesome food supply."
Tom Super of the National Chicken Council said antibiotics are already used sparingly in chicken production and that additional regulations could take medical decisions out of the hands of veterinarians.
This is not the first time the FDA has sought to limit cephalosporins. In 2008 the agency said it would limit the drugs for animals, citing the importance of cephalosporins for treating disease in humans. But the Bush administration reversed that decision just before it was to take effect after receiving several hundred letters from drug companies and farm animal trade groups.
In the first two years after President Barack Obama took office, FDA officials repeatedly said antibiotics in agriculture pose a serious public health threat and said they would act on the issue. But they had taken no concrete steps to limit the drugs until Wednesday's announcement.
In a statement on the FDA website, the agency said the announcement is "among a number of ongoing FDA activities and initiatives intended to address concerns about the use of antimicrobial drugs in animal agriculture." Those include increased monitoring and voluntary guidelines for producers on how to use the drugs judiciously.
Laura Rogers of the Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming says the issue is "often more emotional than intellectual."
To farmers, she says, it often seems that public health advocates are telling them how to do their jobs. But she said the need for change will be even greater as the market responds to consumer demand -- grocery stores and restaurants now tout antibiotic-free meats.
"While this announcement today is a great first step," Rogers said, "more work needs to be done."
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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