EU member states backed a plan to combat antimicrobial resistance, an increasing global health issue, that would reduce the use of antibiotics in the food chain and limit certain drugs to humans.

Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effectiveness of medicines such as antibiotics to treat infections in humans, as bacteria have developed the capacity to resist the drugs created to kill them. Some 700,000 people a year are estimated to die globally because of antimicrobial resistance, EU data suggests.

"New smart EU rules will give us robust tools to prevent the abuse of antibiotics and limit the risk of the development of antimicrobial resistance," said Bulgarian Agriculture Minister Rumen Porodzanov. Bulgaria holds the EU's rotating presidency.

The rules, agreed by EU ambassadors, limit the prophylactic use of antibiotics for animals that are not yet sick and provide clearer guidelines to countries outside the EU.

Non-EU farmers will be prohibited from using antibiotics to cultivate larger animals, which is still a common practice but banned in the European Union if they want to sell in the bloc.

Efficacy in combating infections

The rules will also limit certain medicines to their treatment of humans in order not to water down their efficacy in combating infections. The European Parliament and the European Council, which groups the EU's 28 member states, still need to approve the new rules.

An estimated 10 million people a year could die because of resistance to antibiotics, former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O'Neill said in 2014.