Court Orders FDA To Investigate Use Of Antibiotics In Animal Feed

Back in 1977, the FDA proposed a ban on putting penicillin and other antibiotics in animal feed solely for the purpose of promoting growth. Amazingly, that proposal has been gathering dust long enough to begin losing its hair and regretting its life choices. That is until yesterday, when a federal court ordered the FDA to finish what it started 35 years ago.

Yesterday’s decision by a Manhattan-based federal district court comes as the result of a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists. The plaintiffs were seeking to compel the FDA to follow through on the proposal, in spite of the fact it never held a single hearing following the initial 1977 decision.

The plaintiffs and other consumer advocates have long argued that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion has helped to create antibiotic-resistant pathogens. In his ruling, the judge in the case agreed, writing that “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.”

The next step is for the FDA to hold a hearing to allow the makers of these antibiotics to make the case that their products are not having an adverse effect.

“If, at the hearing, the drug sponsors fail to show that the use of the drugs is safe, the [FDA] Commissioner must issue a withdrawal order,” wrote the judge.

In 2010, the FDA kindly asked farmers to follow voluntary guidelines about using antibiotics on farm animals.

At the time, the National Pork Council scoffed at the news, saying “Show us that use of antibiotics in animal production is causing this antibiotic resistance… How do we know [the problem] is not on the human side?”

Earlier this year, it finally got around to banning the use of the widely used cephalosporin class of antibiotics for purposes that don’t involve actually curing animals of infections, though that ban did not include the penicillin or tetracyline drugs mentioned in the original 1977 proposal.

“This health threat has been hiding in the margins for four decades. The rise of superbugs that we see now was predicted by FDA in the ’70s,” said NRDC attorney Jen Sorenson in a statement to Consumerist. “Thanks to the court’s order, drug manufacturers will finally have to do what FDA should have made them do 35 years ago: prove that their drugs are safe for human health, or take them off the market.”

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  1. DemosCat says:

    I thought it was the feed lots pumping cows full of antibiotics, not the farmers that was the problem. Force cows to eat a food they are not evolved to handle – corn – cows get sick as a result, so antibiotics are added to animal feed.

    And the Pork Council’s response is ridiculous. A given antibiotic is the same antibiotic whether administered to animals or people. The more it’s out there, the more opportunity for germs to adapt.

    • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

      I think you are correct, that all these added antibiotics and such are so that cows can handle living off of corn.

      If they just ate grass, then none of this junk would need to be added.

      • Remarkable Melba Kramer says:

        I didn’t know about the cows not eating corn until watching Food Inc.

        This, along with other stuff kind of makes you not want to trust the FDA or USDA.

        • Dallas_shopper says:

          Yet another reason why I became a vegetarian. (Not due to Food Inc., but due to the issues presented by the film.)

      • DemosCat says:

        It gets better. Corn causes an increase in the acidity level in cows’ stomachs. The e-coli living inside the stomachs have evolved to become more acid-resistant.

        Result? If you eat an under-cooked hamburger contaminated with e-coli, it used to be your stomach acid would easily finish them off, and you wouldn’t get sick from it. Now e-coli can survive your stomach and make you sick. Jack in the Box anyone?

        All this just from the feed lot conditions.

      • Velifer says:

        If they just roamed free over the Indo-European hillsides and were chased by healthy humans jogging with spears, we wouldn’t have this problem, and obesity rates would go down.

        Take a fucking animal nutrition class.

        • AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

          I actually have my masters in Animal Nutrition.

          • neilb says:

            Dear Master of Animal Nutrition, :)
            We get beef from a combined local livestock farmer/slaughter/packer (really nice third-generation of the family, with only relatives running these stages of the operation–never an outbreak or issue).
            Their beef is fed grass until 600lbs and then fed corn until market weight.
            Is this a responsible way to raise the animal? No one ever addresses this specific situation.
            I hope it is ok. The meat is tasty, safe, and fairly inexpensive–so I don’t want to change.
            Thanks.

            • SPOON - now with Forkin attitude says:

              It may be healthier for the animal for going 100% grass fed, and slightly less tasty to us as well.

          • Velifer says:

            I didn’t know University of Phoenix had an animal nutrition program. Sorry.
            Did you still have the brochures on ruminant nutrition? You should read them. I was unaware of any magical healing properties of grass, I’ll have to read up about that.

  2. Dallas_shopper says:

    About goddamn time.

  3. CanadianDominic says:

    said NRDC attorney Jen Sorenson in a statement to Consumerist.

    That’s great you reached out to them. Hopefully this marks the start of a new trend where your stories have a bit more Consumerist-involvement!

  4. Velifer says:

    “If, at the hearing, the drug sponsors fail to show that the use of the drugs is safe, the [FDA] Commissioner must issue a withdrawal order,”

    While you’re at it, prove there are no unicorns on the moon, there is no teapot in orbit between Earth and Mars, and that Jesus can’t hear you.

    • Marlin says:

      Thats not how drugs work. To be able to market a drug YOU THE MAKER must show its safe.

      Or should we let drug makers put anything on the market and only go after them after say 100… 1000… or how many do you think should get sick or die before the big bad evil gov can step in?

      • Velifer says:

        Fascinating value judgement about how I view the government. Incorrect, but fascinating.

        We have an 84 year long continuously running natural experiment that says it’s safe. If that’s not enough, what standard is going to be acceptable?

        • ARP says:

          Really?

          1) So, we’ve been putting the same kind and amount in our feed for 84 years- not just giving particular animals antibiotics when sick?
          2) We haven’t had to develop stronger antibiotics and there hasn’t been an increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria in both humans and animals? I mean if its been fine for so long, we wouldn’t need to change anything, right?
          3) How long ago did we move from open field grazing to factory farms? Was that 84 years ago?
          4) How long ago did we move from grass fed to primarily corn fed? Was that 84 years ago?
          5) Why are we moving to bathing our ground beef in Ammonia? I mean, there’s been no antibiotic resistant strains in animals, right? Only humans.

          I didn’t know farmers were such futurists.

          • Velifer says:

            1) Well, pretty much, yes.
            2) In humans AND animals… seems that if humans are your control, then the animal experiment is showing no difference.
            3) Yeah, about that long.
            4) Again, yup. Right about that time.
            5) Because we’re getting better at providing safer food.

            Really, people should learn more about their food supply before going all internet vigilante.

  5. Hi_Hello says:

    hope it turns out well.. I don’t mind paying 10X more for cow meat if there is a limited supply because they only eat grass and farms can only handle a few of them at a time.

    • Velifer says:

      The poor people just outside your gated community would like to thank you for your environmental stewardship, but they’re too busy staging food riots.

    • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

      It’s nice to know someone can afford over $40 per pound for beef. I have a hard time affording the $4.00/lb my local store is charging, and have opted for road killed venison when I can find it.

      • Hi_Hello says:

        I rarely eat beef. And if I do, I get the cheap cut for stew. Chicken, pork, and fish are my main thing.

        But if the two options are $40/lb vs superbugs… which one would you take?

        hell, I’m even settle for buy my own calf, raising and and they killing it for a new rare steak.

        My mom gets her beef super cheap. Her and a few friends pitch it, one of them go to the slaughter house and buy a whole cow. EVERYTHING is divided for everyone. I”m too lazy to do this.

      • dks64 says:

        If you can’t afford it, you just don’t buy it. Meat isn’t a necessity.

      • DGC says:

        $40.00 a pound? Where did that figure come from? I get grass fed chuck roast to grind into burger for $6.49 a pound, Porterhouse steak at $11.99 a pound, and a fully processed and packaged beef quarter for $7.39 a pound directly from the farmer. $40/lb sounds like BS (and they know BS) from the meat industrial complex.

        • lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

          From HiHello “I don’t mind paying 10X more for cow meat if there is a limited supply”

          10X more than $4.00 per pound = $40

    • neilb says:

      I have heard the increased cost should be around 5-10% to make up for the lessened weight gain. US meat is still cheaper than it is in most other countries. We complain even though it is by far the cheapest. I’m not sure about whether we would NEED to omit corn entirely. My guess is no.
      My champagne-sipping comrades and I would gladly pay 10% more per lb (of course, we will make up for it in relatively reduced long-term costs associated with health). It would generally benefit the animals. Everyone wins in the long run except for the low-cost food suppliers.

    • dks64 says:

      In reality, if you cut government subsidizing on meat/dairy, beef WOULD cost that much. The true cost is high. I would love to see that subsidizing stop and the government put that money towards health care or education. It would be a better use of tax dollars.

      • DemosCat says:

        Not to mention the corn subsidy, which results in corn being sold for less than the cost to produce it. This is why the feed of choice is corn, not grass, and why drinks like Coke now use high fructose corn syrup instead of cane sugar.

  6. the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

    Ummm, tetracycline has been shown to cause birth defects since the late 70′s. I wonder if studies have been conducted to see the results of second hand tetracycline?

  7. DrPizza says:

    As a farmer, I switch over to food with added antibiotics every spring when my animals are giving birth. Illnesses such as coccidiosis can spread through a herd quickly, with devastating results. Since making that switch every spring, we’ve haven’t had problems. Contrary to the first sentence in this article above, antibiotics are NOT used “solely for the purpose of promoting growth.” Well, I guess technically, avoiding death = growth.