FDA’s Farm Animal Antibiotics Ban Ignored Since 1977, Courts Say

March 29, 2012
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The Food and Drug Administration must act – and quickly – to enforce a largely ignored 35-year-old mandate prohibiting non-medical use of antibiotics in farm animals, a federal court judge ruled last week.

The Food and Drug Administration must act – and quickly – to enforce a largely ignored 35-year-old mandate prohibiting non-medical use of antibiotics in farm animals, a federal court judge ruled last week.

In 1977, the FDA issued an order banning the use of penicillin and tetracycline in farm animals after concluding that overexposure of the drugs in animals weakened the treatment’s effectiveness on humans. The mandate may have passed, but fierce pushback from farmers and lobbyists halted enforcement of it, as groups successfully argued that antibiotics are needed to keep animals healthy.

Many public health advocates dispute the claim, and believe non-medical use of antibiotics, mixed into farm feed, is a direct cause in the surge of drug-resistant bacteria and ‘superbugs.’

Natural food producers, safety awareness organizations and consumer advocacy groups have taken frequent action against the FDA, and in May 2011 the Natural Resources Defense Council sued the FDA for failure to enforce the law. Despite FDA claims that new mandates, such as requiring veterinarian consultation before delivering the drugs, the federal court ruling now forces the FDA to begin steps to actually withdraw approval of antibiotic use in farm animals. The ruling will not immediately stop the practice, but will force regulators and drug makers to hold public hearings, which may be the first steps in changing the nature of farm animal care.

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Several media outlets reported on issues leading up to the ruling and the fallout in the past few days, offering various perspectives.

Here are some highlights:

The New York Times gives a summary of the ruling, what is expected of the Executive Branch, what public hearings must come, and follows the legal history of antibiotics use in farm feed.

The Chicago Tribune discusses the power of social media in identifying non-kosher activity in the food industry.

The International Business Times explores the issue of superbugs within the backdrop of the Society for General Microbiology conference.

NPR discusses animal antibiotic standards and practices in Europe. The piece takes a special look at Denmark, described as a “pork powerhouse.”

ABC News lists the most dangerous superbugs and the origin of the issue.