Groups Sue FDA to Keep Antibiotics Out of Animal Feed Citing “Superbug” Risk

We often warn about the issue of <"">antibiotic overuse and misuse and implications of these practices to human populations when livestock is over-treated with these powerful medications. As a matter-of-fact, we recently wrote that criticism of this practice is growing, with some in the Obama administration describing the trend as hazardous.

The National Resources Defense Council’s (NRDC) publication, Switchboard, announced that the group and its allies—the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and the Union of Concerned Scientists—filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to put an end to the ubiquitous use of antibiotics in animal feed, saying that this dangerous habit is adding to the issue of drug resistance and superbugs. The lawsuit does not call for any changes in the use of antibiotics to treat ill animals.

The groups ask the FDA to ban the nontherapeutic use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed and to respond to prior petitions seeking this withdrawal concerning other antibiotics, said Switchboard. Pointing out that about 70 percent of the antibiotics used in the United States are actually used in farms to increase animal growth and offset filthy living conditions, the group explained that, because livestock is treated with very low doses of the potent drugs, diseases are not being treated, but bacteria remain, growing and becoming antibiotic resistant. This enables bacteria to outsmart antibiotics and to survive, thrive, and strengthen so that existing drugs cannot eradicate them.

For instance, we’ve long reported on the escalating issues with Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus—MRSA—a type of staph that causes infections resistant to most antibiotics and that sickens tens of thousands of Americans annually. Fully preventable, MRSA is very treatable in early stages with early and proper diagnosis and general-purpose antibiotics, a bandage, and a clean environment. But, since MRSA is resistant to all but the one antibiotic of last resort—which is being used more and more, and with decreasing success—without treatment or with incorrect diagnosis and treatment, MRSA spreads rapidly, leading to respiratory failure and surgeries, attacking vital organs like the lungs and heart. Survivors are not always returned to their pre-MRSA condition, losing limbs, hearing, and full use of damaged organs.

Some foodborne pathogens resistant to antibiotics can leave patients with long-term, serious gastrointestinal, urinary tract, neurological, muscular, cardiac, and other effects that, simply, never go away. Switchboard noted that in April, about 55,000 pounds of frozen raw turkey burgers were recalled due to contamination with a Salmonella strain the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said is immune to traditional antibiotics. The CDC noted that drug resistant infections are costing us upwards of $26 billion annually.

According to Switchboard, the FDA has been aware for over three decades that the practice of dosing animal feed with human antibiotics is a threat to human health; that it first realized the link back in 1977. The NDRC is now calling for an end to this practice, which is decimating drug efficacy when needed to treat sick people.

It seems, said Switchboard that not only has the FDA not protected Americans from the threat of antibiotic resistance, it has never issued a final response to two long-pending—six and 12 years—petitions urging for action.

Of note, said Switchboard, other countries stopped using antibiotics for growth enhancement and have been able to maintain stable food prices and increased production. For example, Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, banned antibiotics in animal feed over 10 years ago; now, the government and industry data say the country has seen a well-maintained decrease in general antibiotic use and drug resistant pathogens on livestock and meat, said Switchboard. Meanwhile, livestock production has increased and prices have remained unchanged.

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