The White House is joining the fight against antimicrobial resistance. Late last week, President Obama issued an executive order to stop the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which he calls a “serious threat to public health and the economy.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause at least 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths annually in the United States alone. According to the executive order, detecting, prevent and controlling antibiotic resistance will require a “strategic, coordinated and sustained” effort with cooperate among government, academia, industry, healthcare providers, the general public, agriculture and international partners.

The order calls for the creation of a Task Force to be co-chaired by the Secretaries of Defense, Agriculture and HHS that will develop a 5-year action plan to implement a National Strategy for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (Strategy).

Among a lengthy list of goals in the strategy is to continue taking steps to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food-producing animals.

The National Pork Producers Council said with the order, the White House has acknowledged something NPPC has said for years – that more research is needed to understand antibiotic resistance.

“NPPC is pleased that the administration agrees that more research is needed and looks forward to working further with FDA and USDA on determining the most informed and appropriate solutions for combating antibiotic resistant bacteria,” said NPPC President Howard Hill.

The pork producers weren’t the only agricultural group to weigh in on the announcement. American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman says raising healthy animals is a farmer’s top priority, and encouraged the task force to keep an open dialogue with agriculture as it moves forward.

“America’s livestock farmers live on their farms and care about the health of both their families and their animals. Just as parents do not give antibiotics to a child, except when necessary and prescribed by a doctor, farmers don’t rush to treat animals with antibiotics,” Stallman says.

Not everyone was satisfied, however, with the order. Critics said they hoped the White House would have gone further.

"The overuse of antibiotics on the farm clearly affects human health, and substantial changes in the use of antibiotics in agricultural settings are necessary in order to preserve this precious resource for human medicine," said U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) who has been a vocal critic of the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture.  

Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said she was disappointed the order didn’t “urge more effective action to limit antibiotic use in animal production.”

“The Administration can’t tackle antimicrobial resistance without tackling unnecessary uses of medically important antibiotics on the farm. Today cattle, pigs, and poultry are given three times as much antibiotics by volume than are used to treat humans,” says Smith DeWaal.

Allan Coukell, senior director of drugs and medical devices at The Pew Charitable Trusts, welcomed the order and encouraged the Task Force to focus on three key areas: greater surveillance of infectious organisms, patterns of resistance, and antibiotic use; vigilant stewardship of existing drugs in humans and animals; and efforts to spur the development of new antibiotics.