The antibiotics, used to make pigs, chickens and cattle bigger, will be phased out over the next three years, the Food and Drug Administration said Wednesday.
"Governments around the world consider antimicrobial-resistant bacteria a major threat to public health, the agency said in a statement. "Illnesses caused by drug-resistant strains of bacteria are more likely to be potentially fatal when the medicines used to treat them are rendered less effective."
Dr. Bernadette Dunham, director of the FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine, said the change promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials, which protects public health and, at the same time, ensures that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need."
Former FDA commissioner David Kessler called the action "the first significant step in dealing with this important public health concern in 20 years," the New York Times reported.
A critic of the agency's loose regulation of the use of antibiotics in animals intended for human consumption, Kessler added, " No one should underestimate how big a lift this has been in changing widespread and long entrenched industry practices."
Calls for FDA action began in the 1970s as health officials expressed concern the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals was leading to the evolution of infections in humans that were resistant to commonly used antibiotics.
The change will make it illegal for farmers and ranchers to use antibiotics to help their animals grow larger. A veterinarian will have to supervise the use of antibiotics to prevent disease in animals.
Currently, animal producers can buy antibiotics over the counter at feed stories without oversight, said Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.
The changes are voluntary for pharmaceutical companies, but the two largest manufacturers -- Zoetis and Elanco -- said during the public comment period they would abide by the new regulations.