Obama Targets Government Meat Purchases to Control Superbugs

President Barack Obama will order federal cafeterias to favor buying meat from farms that don’t overuse antibiotics, as his administration seeks to curtail agricultural practices blamed for the rise of drug-resistant bacteria.

More than 150 food companies, retailers and health-care providers will meet at the White House on Tuesday to promote their own efforts to encourage judicious use of antibiotics in agriculture and medicine, including Tyson Foods Inc. and Smithfield Foods Inc. Many of the efforts were already under way; Tyson and Smithfield both say they have reduced the use of the medicines in their chickens and pigs.

Drug-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million infections in Americans per year and kill 23,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The agency calls the bacteria “one of the most pressing health threats facing the world today.”

The Food and Drug Administration proposed in 2012 to require farmers get prescriptions from veterinarians before including antibiotics in feed for their livestock. Use of the drugs would be restricted to sick animals, under the proposal.

The FDA has also suggested drugmakers stop including weight gain and accelerated growth on the labels of antibiotics as indications for their use.

The drug agency will announce a final version of the farming rules today, the White House said in a statement.

Obama will issue a memorandum to federal agencies to apply a preference by 2020 for farms practicing “responsible antibiotic-use policies” when they purchase meat.

Tyson has said it will eliminate use of human antibiotics in chicken by 2017, and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. has requested that its meat suppliers use antibiotics judiciously. That typically means antibiotics are only administered for medical reasons, not to promote growth.

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