BRUSSELS – The European Parliament approved limits on the use of antibiotics in farm animals produced for food. The limits are aimed at keeping drug-resistant bacteria out of food.

The legislation was adopted with 583 votes to 16 and 20 abstentions. The European Council must formally adopt the agreement before publication in the Official Journal.

The new regulations, which go into force in 2022, limit the use of antimicrobials as a preventive measure — in the absence of clinical signs of infection — to single animals. A veterinarian must approve and justify the use of antibiotics in cases where there is a high risk of infection. Additionally, treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection should be a last resort. Antibiotics should be administered only after a veterinarian has diagnosed infection and prescribed antimicrobials.

The new law also gives the European Commission power to reserve select antimicrobials for treating only humans, and not animals.

Finally, the law also requires that imported foods meet EU standards and that antibiotics cannot be used to promote growth of animals.

“This is a major step forward for public health. Beyond farmers or animal owners, the use of veterinary medicines concerns us all, because it has a direct impact on our environment and our food; in short, on our health,” said Françoise Grossetête, member of the European Parliament. “Thanks to this law, we will be able to reduce the consumption of antibiotics on livestock farms, an important source of resistance that is then transmitted to humans. Antibiotic resistance is a real sword of Damocles, threatening to send our health care system back to the Middle Ages.”

In a separate vote in June, members of the European Parliament (MEPs) approved new rules that ban the use of medicated feed to prevent infection. Medicated feed can only be administered when the risk of infection to a group of animals is high and there is no “appropriate alternative.”

“Medicated feed is just one way of administering a veterinary medicinal product, but as this mix is more homogeneous and more precise in targeting animal diseases, it is a better way to address the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance,” said lead negotiator Clara Eugenia Aguilera García. “It is also safer for farmers than, for instance, top dressing, which is not covered by existing rules. This will now change as we have obliged the Commission to come up with EU-wide rules to do away with this loophole.”