By Bill Berkrot
(Reuters) - The U.S. government will hold a forum on Tuesday to help find ways to ensure the responsible use of antibiotics, whose overuse is creating drug-resistant "superbugs" that pose a serious risk to public health.
The White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship will bring together some 150 representatives from food companies, retailers, drugmakers, farmers, medical societies and others involved in human and animal health to discuss limiting the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, animal feed and humans.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug-resistant bacteria, which stop responding to the medicines designed to kill them, cause 2 million illnesses and about 23,000 deaths each year in the United States alone.
CDC Director Thomas Frieden said antibiotic resistance might be the single most important infectious disease threat today.
"If we lose antibiotics, the medicine chest will be empty and it will not only undermine our ability to treat routine infections, but it will undermine much of modern medicine," Frieden said on a conference call with reporters to announce the White House Forum.
"We risk turning back the clock to a world where simple infections can be fatal just as they were a century ago."
Among the topics under discussion will be developing guidelines and recommendations to control the overuse of antibiotics in hospitals and curtail their use in food animals.
Ahead of the meeting, President Barack Obama signed a memorandum directing federal departments and agencies to promote meat and poultry produced according to responsible antibiotic-use.
The memorandum broadens the availability of such products in all federal cafeterias serving civilian government employees by 2018 for poultry and 2020 for other meats "to the extent such an option is available and cost-effective."
(Reporting by Bill Berkrot; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Andre Grenon and Lisa Von Ahn)