After 35 years of stalling, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) may finally be compelled to take action on one of the biggest public health issues of our time: antibiotic resistant bacteria or, superbugs. In a ruling last week, the U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, told the FDA that it’s time to stop stalling and start implementing a schedule for withdrawal of all non-therapeutic antibiotics in animal feed.
By the FDA’s own account, 70 percent of bacterial infections treated at U.S. hospitals each year are resistant to at least one antibiotic. And there aren’t new drugs in the pipeline with the promise to vanquish the superbugs, the agency’s Principal Deputy Commissioner Joshua M. Sharfstein, M.D. said in his July 14, 2010, testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health.
Although the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) agrees on both counts, the two are on opposing sides of a lawsuit on the issue. In 2011, the NRDC, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal ConcernsTrust (FACT), Public Citizen Inc. and Order Union of Concerned Scientists, filed suit against the FDA to end the use of antibiotics in animal feed. It took about 20 years before that practice, which began in the 1950s, was discovered to pose health risks to animals and humans. But although the FDA has been aware of the problem since 1977, it’s done nothing to stop it.
And the foot-dragging has continued with this suit. Last week’s ruling was the third time this year the FDA was ordered to start the process of ending antibiotic use in animal feed and there has yet to be action. In rejecting the FDA’s request for a delay, the court said, “given the substantial harm that further delay of withdrawal proceedings could visit on the plaintiffs and the public, the balance of the equities would not “weigh heavily in favor” of a stay even if the Government had shownirreparable harm.”