WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. regulators on Wednesday asked food producers to voluntarily stop using antibiotics in livestock to promote growth, as part of an effort to prevent the rise of drug-resistant "superbugs."
The FDA said antibiotics should only be used to prevent or treat illnesses in animals used for food production. They asked companies to start phasing out the use of antibiotics for non-medical purposes.
Environmental advocacy groups have long argued that using common antibiotics like tetracyclines and penicillin in animal feed or in animals has contributed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, known as "superbugs."
Scientists say overuse of antibiotics can lead to bacterial resistance as resistant strains become dominant. Perhaps the most publicized antibiotic-resistant bacteria are the methicillin-resistant staphylococcus bugs known as MRSA.
"The new strategy will ensure farmers and veterinarians can care for animals while ensuring the medicines people need remain safe and effective," FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement.
A federal judge last month ordered the FDA to start proceedings to withdraw approval for the non-therapeutic use of common antibiotics in animal feed, based on a lawsuit filed by environmental groups.
It was not immediately clear how Wednesday's announcement, which asks for voluntary withdrawal by companies, is related to the court's ruling.
(Reporting by Anna Yukhananov; Editing by David Gregorio)