So if you were the FDA, and you wanted to regulate the feeding of antibiotics to livestock — which you don't, but bear with me — there would be a couple of ways you could go. You could regulate the ones that are the most widespread and cause the most problems. Or you could regulate the ones that a tiny and decreasing number of people use in the first place. The second one is less effective, but it's easier! So that's what the FDA is doing.
The agency has announced that it will ban the agricultural use of cephalosporins, a class of antibiotic used in humans to treat pneumonia and certain infections. That's a good step towards keeping factory farms from becoming breeding grounds for antibiotic-resistant microbes — or anyway, it would be, if it weren't for the fact that effectively zero percent of farms use cephalosporins in the first place. Behold:
Those numbers — 91,113 pounds of cephalosporin out of 36,083,279 pounds total, or a quarter of a percent — are from 2009. In 2010, points out Tom Philpott at Mother Jones, farmers used 41 percent less cephalosporin than in the previous year.
From the FDA's perspective this is basically a win-win. They get positive-sounding headlines like "U.S. Restricts More Antibiotics for Livestock," and they barely have to regulate anything! At least, it looks like a win-win until everyone at the FDA contracts an antibiotic-resistant disease.