Federal eateries join effort to curb animal antibiotic use

Cattle that are grass-fed, antibiotic and growth hormone free gather at Kookoolan Farm in Yamhill, Ore., Thursday, April 23, 2015. Oregon legislators are debating whether to curtail the practice over concern that repeated use of the antibiotics could make germs more resistant to the drugs and result in infections being passed on to humans who consume the meat. If the legislation passes, Oregon would be the first in the nation to mandate stricter rules on livestock antibiotics. (AP Photo/Don Ryan)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s effort to curb the use of antibiotics in animals raised for meat is starting with his own employees.

The White House said Tuesday that many federal cafeterias serving government workers will start serving meat and poultry from animals raised with fewer antibiotics. The directive would apply to all of those civilian government restaurants within five years.

The announcement is part of a White House summit on the responsible use of antibiotics. The Obama administration announced a plan earlier this year to fight the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. While overuse in humans is the leading concern, the administration has worked to curb use in animals processed for meat, as well.

Repeated exposure to antibiotics can lead germs to become resistant to the drugs, so that they are no longer effective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that drug-resistant bacteria cause 23,000 deaths and 2 million illnesses each year in the United States.

Obama has said such drug-resistant bacteria are one of the most serious public health issues and asked Congress to increase funding to fight the problem.

The Food and Drug Administration has already successfully encouraged many drug companies to phase out the use of antibiotics for animal growth promotion. Advocacy groups have called on the agency to limit other uses of animal antibiotics as well, such as for disease prevention when holding animals in crowded conditions.

At the White House forum, more than 150 food companies, retailers, hospitals and drug companies are highlighting their commitments to slow the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and prevent antibiotic-resistant infections.

Several retailers and restaurants have committed to helping reduce antibiotic use. Last month, Wal-Mart, the world’s biggest retailer, asked its suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animals. In March, McDonald’s said it was asking chicken suppliers to lower the use of antibiotics over the next two years. And Tyson Foods said it plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017.

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