In a major step to improve health in the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration put into place, December 11, 2013, a new policy to phase out, over the next three years, the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in farm animals. Future use of antibiotics should be for therapy against a specific illness, under the oversight of a veterinarian. The FDA is asking animal pharmaceutical makers to change labels indicating how the medicines should be used and requires licensed veterinarians to oversee the use of the drugs.
Farmers have been able to buy antibiotics over the counter at feed stores to 'blanket treat' food-producing animals by adding the medicines to the feed and water to make them eat less food and grow bigger, faster. When drug-resistant bacteria enter the food supply, they can be transferred to people who eat products from the treated animal.
For decades, health experts have known that indiscriminate use of antibiotics contributes to the development of drug resistant bacteria strains. When ineffective drugs are used against these resistant bacteria, the threat to public health can be deadly. Thousands of Americans die each year from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
A remaining controversy is whether hormones and steroids that are given to livestock to help improve the production of dairy and beef cattle, is a healthy practice. The FDA maintains that this is a safe practice but plenty of other authorities believe these medications in the food supply are not safe for general public consumption. Neither side has yet to make a convincing case so, in the mean time, many consumers choose to err on the side of caution and cut meat and dairy consumption or buy organic.