"We have the regulatory mechanisms, and industry knows that," he said. "We also think things can be done voluntarily. We're not handcuffed to the steering wheel of a particular strategy, but I'm not ruling out anything that we can do to establish these important public-health goals."
Prior efforts of this kind "have repeatedly collapsed in the face of opposition from the drug industry and farm lobby..."
The European Union banned the feeding of antibiotics and related drugs to livestock for growth promotion in 2006.
U.S. farmers routinely give antibiotics to food-producing animals to treat illnesses, prevent infection and encourage growth. The drugs are often added to drinking water and feed. The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are given to animals.
Many of the same classes of drugs fed to animals are deemed "critically" important in human medicine by the FDA, including penicillin, tetracyclines and sulfonamides. In recent years, public health experts say there has been an alarming increase in the number of bacteria that have grown resistant to antibiotics, leading to severe, untreatable illnesses in humans.