Court: FDA need not review low-dose antibiotic use in animals

The votes are in from the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York about the use of antibiotics in animals. In what is being called a “big blow to public health,” the 2–1 ruling says that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is not required to “hold hearings concerning the safety of feeding antibiotics at sub-therapeutic levels,” according to Food Safety News.

The case is several years old, first filed in 2011 by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientist.

The ruling from the Second Circuit Court overturns two district court rulings from 2012.

The groups argued to the FDA that they were required by statue to hold hearings about particular medications—specifically penicillin and tetracyclines—being used in animal feed. The FDA had declared the sub-therapeutic use of such drugs were not “shown to be safe” in the late 1970s. The hearings that the groups lobbied for would require that the industry prove that use of these types of drugs were approved as safe.

With the ruling, the NRDC says that the FDA no longer has to consider banning the practice of feeding antibiotics to healthy animals.

“The science was there in 1977 and 40 years later, it’s only gotten stronger that these low-dose routine use of antibiotics on livestock is causing development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and that bacteria is coming off the farm in many different ways  and affecting humans,” Mae Wu, attorney for the NRDC’s health program said in an article in Food Safety News.

The FDA has argued Guidance #213, basically stating that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in animals would be banned.

The NRDC, and other groups, say that it just isn’t enough. “It won’t be effective at curbing antibiotic use on farms because ‘disease prevention’ labels could simply replace those for growth promotion,” the article in Food Safety News said.

Keeve Nachman, a scientist at Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future, calls the ruling a “big blow to public health. It’s tough to know where it’s going to go from here.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that at least 23,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections.

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