After 35 years of ignoring its own research finding on antibiotic overuse in livestock, the Food and Drug Administration is now "considering appropriate next steps", thanks to a recent federal court ruling.
It is estimated that about 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in farm animals. If you think that the widespread use of antibiotics on farms is to treat sick animals, you are wrong.
In livestock industry, antibiotics are used not only to treat sick animals but the drugs are also added to animal feeds of healthy animals in low doses to promote growth.
The overuse of antibiotics in farm animals has been condemned by scientists and consumer groups for long as studies have shown that the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals could lead to the spread of drug-resistant bacteria, which is a big threat to human health.
Even, the FDA's Bureau of Veterinary medicine in 1977 was considering to withdraw the approved uses of of antibiotics - penicillin and tetracyclines, intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals as the products were not shown to be safe for sub-therapeutic use. The agency had also concluded that feeding animals low-doses of antibiotics namely, penicillin and tetracyclines, could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people.
According to Alliance for the Prudent Use of Antibiotics, antibiotic-resistant infections are estimated to cost the U.S. health care system over $20 billion a year.
Several organizations like the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization and the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences have recommended that livestock producers be prohibited from using antibiotics for growth promotion.
But in December of 2011, the FDA made a U-turn on its proposal of 1977, deciding not to withdraw antibiotics from animal feed.
Meanwhile in May of 2011, a coalition of environmental and public-health organizations filed a suit against the FDA for failing to meet its legal responsibility to address the mounting health threat posed by the widespread use of antibiotics in farm animals. Citizen petitions were also filed by several plaintiffs in 1999 and 2005 but the FDA never responded.
In the suit filed last May, the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC, an international nonprofit environmental organization and one of the plaintiffs, compelled the FDA to respond to the two citizen petitions also.
In response to the suit filed by the coalition of environmental and public-health organizations, a ruling was issued by Judge Theodore Katz of the Southern District of New York, on March 22, ordering the FDA to address antibiotic overuse in livestock and protect effectiveness of medicine for humans. The judge's ruling compels the FDA to take action on its own safety findings after 35 years of delay.
The ruling implies that the FDA will have to withdraw approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed, unless those drug uses are proven safe.
However, the issue of antibiotic overuse in livestock is far from over. The FDA has 60 days to appeal Katz's ruling. Moreover, briefing on the NRDC's second claim in the lawsuit, which asks for the FDA to rule on two citizen petitions, will be completed on April 16.
So what's next? There may be more litigation - with appeals and counter appeals, in the coming days. Stay tuned...
by RTT Staff Writer
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