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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced plans to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock as a means to keep antibiotic resistance in humans at bay. The food safety regulator stated that it was launching a new voluntary project in which pharmaceutical companies could relabel their products to prevent them from being used in healthy animals.

It is a common practice at U.S farms to feed antibiotics to animals to ensure they grow faster and gain more weight. However, consuming meat from an animal that was fed antibiotics has led to growing antibiotic resistance in people. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 23,000 Americans die from antibiotic-resistant infections every year, although there is no information on how many of these are associated with meat, the FDA said.

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It is important to use antibiotics in animals and humans only when there is a medical necessity, the federal agency stated. If antibiotics are unreasonably used, antimicrobial resistance is created and many infectious diseases will become very difficult to treat. While imposing mandatory restrictions on antibiotic use will take years of drafting and implementation, the FDA thinks that introducing a voluntary program will be the fastest way to start a phase-out of the practice. Under new guidance, pharmaceutical companies and farms could immediately start cutting down on drug use.