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    The FDA Spent 3 Years Fighting to Allow Farms to Pump Animals With Antibiotics

    Written by

    Jason Koebler

    Staff Writer

    Image: Shutterstock

    The Food and Drug Administration knows that pumping healthy animals full of antibiotics to promote their growth isn't safe. Three courts have now said the agency knows it isn't safe. Antibiotic manufacturers know it isn't safe. But the practice is legally allowed to continue, and the FDA doesn't have to do shit about it, an appeals court ruled today

    Meanwhile, we'll just keep marching towards a future where antibiotics as medicine don't work since factory farms around the country continue to use antibiotics as growth enhancers in livestock raised for food. 

    Three years ago, a group of public interest groups, namely the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists sued the FDA, saying that the agency had a responsibility to withdraw its approval for the whenever-I-feel-like-it use of antibiotics as a growth agent.

    That laissez-faire attitude toward antibiotic use is why we use four times as many antibiotics on animals as we do on humans, and it's a reason why antibiotic-resistant bacteria have sprung up all around the country (and have, in some cases, made the leap from livestock to humans). 

    The thing is, there's no disagreement about this. The FDA agrees that the overuse of antibiotics on animals is contributing to our antibiotic resistance problem, and last year implemented some "voluntary" guidelines that suggest animal antibiotics manufacturers not sell their products to farmers as growth aids. But the FDA won't go a step further and require that antibiotics be used only when animals are sick.

    Two district courts already ruled that the FDA had to change those voluntary guidelines to mandatory ones, but an appeals court today ruled that, although the practice is unsafe, the FDA doesn't have to do anything about it. That's because the way the law is written, long-term antibiotic resistance isn't taken into account as a matter of safety.

    "Nothing suggests that penicillin and tetracycline, when administered to animals, are inherently dangerous to human health; such antibiotics are widely, effectively, and beneficially used in human medical care," Gerrard Lynch and Katherine Forrest wrote in the majority opinion. "It appears clear that while the agency regards the indiscriminate and extensive use of such drugs in animal feed as threatening, it does not necessarily believe that the administration of antibiotics to animals in their feed is inherently dangerous to human health."

    In other words, antibiotics probably aren't actively killing us (right now), so there's nothing the justices can do to force the FDA to ban them. 

    In a dissenting opinion, Robert Katzmann said: "The FDA has consistently reaffirmed that using low doses of antibiotics on healthy livestock to promote growth could accelerate the development of antibioticā€resistant bacteria, causing 'a mounting public health problem of global significance' ... Today's decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug."

    In other words, the government knows this stuff is going to kill us one day, but it's not going to do anything about it.

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