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Ag Experts React to Antibiotic Plan

FAIRFIELD, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- The Food and Drug Administration is now working to phase out the use of some antibiotics used to promote growth and feed efficiency in livestock processed for meat.

The voluntary FDA plan asks pharmaceutical companies to stop labeling drugs for human infection as acceptable for use in animals.

The hope is, if those drugs are only used when animals are really sick, it will cut down on the spread of antibiotic-resistant superbugs in people, and make the population healthier.

For Francis Thicke, the program is a good first step.

Thicke drives an electric four-wheeler up a rocky dirt path to the field where his organic dairy cows graze on grass in the summer and hay in the winter.

By definition, these organic cows can't be fed antibiotics at all, so Thicke keeps them healthy in a different way.

"We have 60 small pastures on our farm and after each milking, twice a day, they go from pasture to pasture," Thicke said.

That's the opposite of how most livestock in America live -- most of them cooped up in high-density confinements -- and why 70 to 80 percent of all the antibiotics in the country are fed to those animals, Thicke said.

"Most of them in conditions that are not healthy. That's why the antibiotics are used," he said.

Thicke thinks the FDA's plan is a good place to start, but that the voluntary aspect is too big of a loophole.

"You might say a large enough loophole to drive a feed truck through," he said.

"No, I've talked to farmer all across the country and they're scared. FDA has made it clear they want some changes and they're going to make it happen," said Scott Hurd, associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Iowa State University.

Hurd is also the former Deputy Undersecretary of Agriculture for Food Safety, and said, it is not realistic to think that industrial farms will all one day look like Thicke's -- he said confining animals is what makes American agriculture so efficient -- but it is one way to make the process safer.

"Antibiotics in livestock production are an important tool, they're not a crutch," Hurd said.

Part of the plan also makes many current over-the-counter drugs only available through a veterinarian's prescription. Many industrial farms also have those veterinarians on staff, Thicke said. 
 
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