January 23, 2018

FDA Documents Show Agency Allows Livestock Antibiotic Use

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has released documents from the FDA showing the agency allows antibiotic use in livestock despite “high risk” to people. Thirty potentially harmful antibiotics, including 18 rated as “high risk”, will remain on the market as food additives to farm animals. This is despite an internal review that raised red flags on the issue.

AntibioticsUse of those drugs in livestock exposes human beings to antibiotic resistant bacteria through the food supply. Scientific reviews of those antibiotics were conducted by the FDA between 2001 and 2010, but the drugs are still approved for use in industrial animal agriculture operations. The antibiotics are approved for “non therapeutic use”, that is, they are used for growth promotion and to prevent disease in unsanitary, overcrowded farm conditions, not to treat sick animals.

If permission to use these drugs were sought today, they would not likely be approved. FDA concluded in their review that “at least 25 of the reviewed feed additives do not satisfy even the safety standards set by FDA in 1973.”

The safety reviews were of drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes. Of the 30 drugs, 18 antibiotics pose a “high risk” to humans, and the other 12 antibiotics were never established as safe because the manufacturers never submitted sufficient information to establish safety.

A large number of studies has established that the misuse of antibiotics can lead to bacterial resistant to other antibiotics too. Those 30 antibiotics mentioned in the report could reduce the effectiveness of other medically important antibiotics used to treat people.

The FDA has failed to act on this issue for decades. Two federal court orders in 2012, resulting from NRDC litigation, have not been obeyed. Voluntary guidance to industry and the drug manufacturers has been issued instead. The FDA has appealed the court orders and a decision from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals is expected this year.

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