From Green Right Now Reports

A federal ruling that the Food and Drug Administration must act to control the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed has raised hopes that new stricter rules for these drugs could help preserve them for fighting human diseases.

Crowded pigs (Photo: CAFO)

The ruling came in response to a lawsuit by environmental and public health groups that have pleaded with the FDA to address antibiotic overuse in the livestock industry. The groups cited studies showing that the routine and daily administration of antibiotics to animals is triggering “super bugs” resistant to antibiotics.

The phenomenon is a double whammy to human health, eroding the effectiveness of current antibiotics to treat known diseases and unleashing mutated bacteria which defy treatment.

Under the ruling by Judge Jeffrey Katz of the US District Court in Southern New York, the FDA will have to withdraw approval for the routine use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed, unless the industries using these drugs to enhance livestock growth and prevent diseases can show in public hearings that they are safe. The FDA had itself determined 35 years ago that these two types of drugs should not be mixed into animal feed for routine administration to livestock. But the agency never acted on its ruling.

“These drugs are intended to cure disease, not fatten pigs and chickens,” said Avinash Kar, health attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“For over 35 years, FDA has sat idly on the sidelines largely letting the livestock industry police itself,” Kar said.  “In that time, the overuse of antibiotics in healthy animals has skyrocketed – contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that endanger human health. Today, we take a long overdue step toward ensuring that we preserve these life-saving medicines for those who need them most – people.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) joined the NRDC in filing the lawsuit in May 2011.

About 70 percent of all the antibiotics consumed in the US are used in livestock operations, given to healthy farm animals at low doses to prevent disease in the crowded, unsanitary pens, crates and housing where they’re raised; these low, preventative doses of antibiotics allow bacteria to thrive and become resistant to the antibiotics, according to the UCS.

The inclusion of antibiotics in animal feed also promotes faster growth, shortening the time and expense required to raise the animals to their full size. But studies show that there’s a price for this cost-savings: People are exposed to the antibiotic resistant bacteria in the environment and through handling and consuming beef, pork and poultry products.

“After decades of delay, the FDA will finally have to address this long-standing threat to the public,” said Richard Wood, executive director for FACT. “This is a great victory for public health and a great chance to make American farms move in a more healthy direction.”