Originally published October 1 2014
Livestock industry's antibiotic use protected by court ruling claiming there isn't an 'official' finding of health risk
by Julie Wilson staff writer
(NaturalNews) Three years ago, an environmental advocacy group sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) over their approval of the risky use of human antibiotics in animal feed.
The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York City-based non-profit group, argued that the FDA has failed to follow their own scientific evidence regarding the dangers of giving farm animals antibiotics.
"More than a generation has passed since FDA first recognized the potential human health consequences of feeding large quantities of antibiotics to healthy animals," said Peter Lehner, NRDC executive director.
Lawsuit filed by environmental advocacy group asked FDA to take action on the agency's own findings regarding the dangers of overusing antibiotics in animal feed
In 1977, the FDA concluded that "feeding animals low-doses of certain antibiotics used in human medicine -- namely, penicillin and tetracyclines -- could promote antibiotic-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people," wrote the NRDC in a 2011 press release.
The lawsuit, which was also filed by the Center for Science in Public Interest (CSPI), the Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), asked that the FDA take action on their own findings and withdraw their approval for "non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed."
The lawsuit would also require the FDA to respond to citizen petitions filed over a six-year period in which the plaintiffs received no response, and to limit the use of antibiotics used by humans for conditions such as pneumonia, strep throat, childhood ear infections and more. The practice of treating sick animals with antibiotics would not be affected.
A ruling in the case was issued over the summer; unfortunately, the outcome did not serve the public's best interest. While all three federal judges agreed that the issue posed a "serious threat to human health," only one thought that the judiciary could do anything about it, despite the FDA's 1977 findings.
The 2nd Circuit's split decision dismissed the case, ruling that the FDA "cannot be forced into a process to withdraw approval of feeding cattle low levels of antibiotics," reported Courthouse News.
Regarding the unanswered citizen petitions, U.S Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch and District Judge Katherine Forrest stated, "It is not for us to determine whether the agency has been prudent or imprudent, wise or foolish, effective or ineffective in its approach to this problem."
Following the decision, lawyers representing the NRDC said they would evaluate all legal options. "As previous court rulings made clear, FDA has failed to follow its own scientific evidence and stop this practice," wrote Jen Sorenson, one of the group's attorneys, in a prepared statement.
"Unfortunately, today's Appeals Court decision effectively gives FDA a free pass to ignore the science when it is politically inconvenient"
FDA spokeswoman Jennifer Dooren stated that she was "pleased" with the outcome, adding that the agency would "phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals."
However, NRDC staff attorney Avinash Kar scoffed at the so-called gesture, stating, "Even if the drug manufacturers stopped selling antibiotics to speed up growth, they could continue to sell them for a very similar use: to prevent diseases associated with crowded and stressful conditions on many livestock facilities."
"Not only is the use very similar in nature-low doses added to the feed of a large number of animals day after day-many of the antibiotics are approved for both kinds of uses," he highlighted.
The decision allows the FDA to declare certain drugs unsafe, and at the same time, do nothing to change the policy, said Kar. "It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug."
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