On May 21, the Food and Drug Administration filed an appeal to overturn a decision by a federal court judge ordering the agency to take action on its own 35-year-old proposal that would ban the use of certain antibiotics in animal feed.  If the decision is upheld, FDA will be required to hold hearings to determine whether the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed is a threat to public health.

Judge Theodore H. Katz ruled that FDA finish the process of withdrawing approval for the non therapeutic use of penicillin and tetracycline in livestock production unless makers of the drugs can produce evidence that their use is safe. This ruling is the result of a lawsuit filed last year by five advocacy groups,  led by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Katz wrote, “The scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence that the FDA has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe.”

In 1977 FDA concluded that the overuse of antibiotics in food animals weakened the treatment’s effectiveness in humans and issued an order that would have banned non-medical use of popular antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline in food animals unless drugmakers could show the drugs were safe.  Unfortunately, the proposal has been in limbo ever since then due to aggressive lobbying from members of Congress and the animal agriculture and drug industries.

This announcement brings a new twist to an old fight. Advocacy groups have been pushing the government to put restrictions on antibiotic overuse in food animals for decades. Alarmingly, some 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in this country are used not on people but on animals, to make them grow faster and to prevent disease from living in crowded and unsanitary living facilities.  However, after constant exposure to antibiotics, animals can develop germs that are resistant to the drugs.   These “superbugs”  make their way into our air and soil, and humans can also be exposed via eating and handling raw or undercooked meat and poultry.

- Written by Elizabeth Foley