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Judge Forces FDA To Remove Approval for Antibiotics in Food Animals

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antibiotic resistance

In a major win for those fighting the cause of antibiotic resistance in humans, on March 23rd, a federal court ruled that the FDA must take action related to its 1977 safety findings regarding the dangers of antibiotic use in animals.

The court noted that today there is finally enough evidence to prove that the dangers predicted by the FDA in 1977 have been realized, and that standing on the sidelines and waiting to see whether the meat industry can police itself on the use of antibiotics is no longer an option.

The court ruling stated, “In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown.”

In 1977, the FDA concluded based on its own research that, “Organisms resistant to antibacterial agents have been found on meat and meat products.”

This was a conclusion drawn after the agency realized that food animals that have received antibiotics like penicillin end up acting as a “reservoir of antibiotic resistant pathogens and non-pathogens.” They agency knew, and stated, in 1977 that this situation could lead to antibiotic resistance and that it would potentially “produce human infections.”

The agency realized that the prevalence of new antibiotic-resistant bacteria was directly related to the “use of antibiotics and sulfonomide drugs” in food animals, and that there was a very real risk to human health if antibiotics are over-used in animal feed.

As evidence continued to mount that the use of antibiotics in meat production is leading to “superbugs” in humans that are more resistant to antibiotic treatments, the situation hit a melting point in May of 2011 when the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in Public Interest, and other groups filed a lawsuit against the FDA to force it to take action based on the latest scientific information.

Meat Industry Practices Lead to Antibiotic Resistance

For over 35 years, the FDA has simply allowed the meat industry to self-regulate itself. The meat industry claims that antibiotics are critical to maintaining the health of its animals.

One epidemiologist and assistant professor at West Texas A&M University, Dr. Guy Loneragan, stated at meat industry hearings on Capital Hill in 2010 that the use of antibiotics is critical:

“Prompt and judicious use of efficacious antibiotics is critical for the successful treatment and, at times, control of specific bacteria diseases in cattle….Certain FDA-approved antibiotics also enable us to significantly improve the efficiency of beef production.”

That phrase – “improve the efficiency of beef production” – is exactly what those critical of the industry say is the problem. Consumer and public health groups say that the meat industry isn’t only using antibiotics to treat herd diseases, they are using antibiotics in order to produce a greater amount of meat in a smaller space. By feeding low levels of antibiotics to herd animals over a long period, they can keep those animals in more cramped, unsanitary conditions without the animals contracting disease.

This is what Dr. Loneragan calls, “…the efficiency of beef production.”

However, a 2010 Pew Commission report confirmed the critic’s claims that the overuse of antibiotics is directly contributing to the rise of superbugs in humans.

The report stated:

“A key contributor to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is the overuse of drugs on industrial farms….Antibiotics important to human health are fed to food animals at low doses, often over long periods of time, creating a breeding ground for new and resistant bacteria and a potentially hazardous workplace.”

For many years, both industry scientists and consumer/health scientists have been battling over the science and the legitimacy of the other side’s scientific argument.

The lawsuit filed in May of 2011 sent the battle to new heights, as the courts were brought into the discussion. The lawsuit was filed because the public health groups believe that scientific evidence is now strong enough to show that the FDA’s own warnings in 1977 have come true, and that the FDA is failing in its responsibility to protect the public health, instead cowing (pun intended) to industrial lobbyists.

Courts have the ability to force the FDA’s hand.

antibiotic resistance

FDA Tries to Sidestep the Lawsuit

Surprising consumer and public health groups, the FDA attempted to sidestep the lawsuit by announcing in on December 29th, 2011 that it would be withdrawing its long-standing plan to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed.

It stated that instead of regulation, it would instead encourage “voluntary reform” within the agricultural industry rather than using enforcement.

Public health critics said that the FDA had clearly timed the announcement during the holidays, and only announced it in a brief statement in the Federal Register, as an attempt to quiety change the rules without public fanfare.

The FDA attempt to sidestep the lawsuit didn’t work.

On March 22nd of 2012, a federal judge ordered the FDA to begin working on withdrawing approval for the use of penicillin and tetrayclines in animal feed. The court went so far as to point out that the FDA should have carried out those actions once it discovered that antibiotics were potentially dangerous to human health in 1977.

The court order essentially serves as the last word in the long debate between industry scientists and public health scientists, stating that science falls squarely on the side of those interested in protecting the public health from antibiotic resistance. The court stated:

“Research has shown that the use of antibiotics in livestock leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that can be – and has been – transferred from animals to humans through direct contact, environmental exposure, and the consumption and handling of contaminated meat and poultry products.”

The lawsuit is good news to consumers, and more importantly to healthcare advocates that are concerned about the prevalance of superbugs throughout society – but the changes will not take effect immediately.

There will be a series of legal procedings, and both the FDA and the highly-powerful agricultural industry may have a few tricks up their sleeves. The practice of “the efficiency of beef production” through crowded, unsanitary conditions goes right to the bottom line of the corporate meat industry, so they are not likely to give up without a fight.

References & Image Credits:
(1) International Business Times
(2) Food Safety News
(3) Natural Resources Defense Council
(4) SFAW Newswire
(5) Health Freedom Alliance
(7) FDA Notice of Opportunity for Hearing on Penicillin 1977

Originally published on

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Ryan is the founder of Top Secret Writers. He is an IT analyst, blogger, journalist, and a researcher for the truth behind strange stories.
Lori is TSW's editor. Freelance writer and editor for over 17 years, she loves to read and loves fringe science and conspiracy theory.

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Gabrielle is a journalist who finds strange stories the media misses, and enlightens readers about news they never knew existed.
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Mark Dorr grew up the son of a treasure hunter. His experiences led to working internationally in some surprising situations!
Mark R. Whittington, from Houston, Texas, frequently writes on space, science, political commentary and political culture.

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