WASHINGTON – Many federal cafeterias will start buying meat and poultry products that are produced using fewer antibiotics. The new policy goes into effect later this year, while the rules will apply to all government foodservice operations within five years.

The White House announced the new purchasing policy as part of its forum on antibiotic stewardship Tuesday. More than 150 major food companies, retailers, and human and animal health stakeholders gathered in Washington, DC, for the event.

The North American Meat Institute issued a statement saying changes in federal meat and poultry procurement are “out of sync with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's analysis.”

“In releasing a 2013 report on antimicrobial resistance, CDC’s Director Tom Frieden, MD, said, “The really most acute problem is in hospitals. And the most resistant organisms in hospitals are emerging in those settings, because of poor antimicrobial stewardship among humans.”

Other critics of the plan said it doesn't go far enough. The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) argued that a loophole would promote irresponsible antibiotics use.

Mae Wu, health attorney for the NRDC, said in a statement that the federal government should stop all routine use of medically important antibiotics and ensure they are used only to treat sick animals and control outbreaks of disease.

“Our government leaders at all levels should close this problematic loophole that allows industry to misuse our precious life-saving drugs at the expense of our health,” Wu said.

Meanwhile, industry stakeholders who attended the forum confirmed their support for responsible use of antibiotics and veterinary oversight. Ashley Peterson, Ph.D., and senior vice President of Scientific and Regulatory Affairs for the National Chicken Council said the overwhelming majority of antibiotics used are only used in birds to maintain gut health.

“Our industry supports FDA Guidance 209 and 213, and we recognize the responsibility of the industry to implement the recommendations to phase out the use of medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion,” Peterson said. “All of our member companies are already eliminating their use for growth promotion and most are moving far in advance of regulatory deadlines for compliance. We also support FDA's Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD), finalized today, as veterinary oversight is important to continued success. Today, all chicken farms are under a health program designed by a licensed veterinarian.”