FDA Withdraws Proposal To Limit Livestock Antibiotic Use, Raising Public Health Concerns

FDA Withdraws Proposal To Limit Livestock Antibiotic Use, Raising Public Health Concerns.

Antibiotic Livestock

First Posted: 12/23/11 04:06 PM ET Updated: 12/23/11 04:32 PM ET

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday its withdrawal of a decades-old proposal to limit the use of antibiotics in animal feed, a move experts say could have dire implications for public health.

Experts warn the common and often unnecessary practice is decreasing the effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine and increasing the deadly threat of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other difficult-to-treat infections.

“This is a step backwards in protecting the public from the rise in antibiotic resistance,” said Avinash Kar, a staff attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Earlier this year, the NRDC filed a lawsuit to compel the FDA to fulfill a commitment it made in 1977, when the agency first acknowledged the mounting public health threat posed by the use of antibiotics in healthy livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention. A recommendation from an advisory committee at the time addressed two major classes of antibiotics that are used in both human and animal medicine: penicillin and tetracycline. The FDA was told to “immediately withdraw approval” for subtherapeutic uses of the drugs in livestock.

According to Thursday’s FDA notice, Congress stepped in before the FDA could move forward with industry hearings — a necessary step before imposing a ban. They asked the agency to refrain from taking any action until there was more research on public health risks.

“The evidence was there way back in 1977, actually before then,” said Steve Roach, public health program director for the advocacy group Food Animal Concerns Trust. “They made a political decision. And since then, the FDA has failed to act.”

“We think this is bureaucratic maneuvering to try to get around the lawsuit,” added Kar. “If anything, the science showing the threat to public health has only gotten stronger.”

Overall, livestock receive an estimated 80 percent of the nation’s antibiotics. According to the FDA, about 90 percent of those antibiotics are consumed by the animals through their feed or water — usually at very low doses. (Read more)

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