FDA Told to Move on Antibiotic Use in Livestock

By John Gever, Senior Editor, MedPage Today/March 23, 2012

A federal judge in New York City has ordered the FDA to start proceedings to revoke approvals for the use of antibiotics in livestock, a practice blamed for the spread of antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacteria. 

In a case brought by 5 environmental and consumer advocacy groups, Judge Theodore Katz of the Southern District of New York ruled that the FDA had violated its own regulations when, in 1977, it identified risks to human health from widespread antibiotic treatment of livestock but then failed for nearly thirty five years to take action. 

The lead plaintiff, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel (NRDC), applauded the ruling. “Today, we will take a long overdue step toward ensuring that we preserve these life-saving medicines for those who need them most – people,” said the group’s health attorney, Avinash Kar, in a statement. 

In 1977, the FDA concluded that low doses of penicillin and tetracycline antibiotics — commonly used to promote weight gain in chickens, hogs and other livestock, rather than to treat infections — may foster emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacterial strains. 

The agency issued notices at that time that it intended to withdraw approvals of the agents for this purpose. But, said Judge Katz in an opinion released late Thursday, “[a]lthough the notices were properly promulgated and over twenty drug sponsors requested hearings on the matter, the FDA never held hearings and took any further action on the proposed withdrawals.” 

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