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Judge Orders FDA to Act on Health Concerns from Livestock Antibiotics

Last updated on 2015.04.18

I've mentioned the public health dangers of non-therapeutic or "subtherapeutic" use of antibiotics in livestock on these pages before. District 8 Senate candidate and organic farmer Charlie Johnson has a thought or two on the topic as well.

Charlie and I can both cheer a federal court ruling this week that orders the Food and Drug Administration to render a final decision on whether non-therapeutic antibiotics are safe or not:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has failed to act for more than three decades on scientific evidence, including some of its own findings, showing that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animal feed can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people.

Such infections, known as "superbugs," kill 70,000 Americans in U.S. hospitals each year. (See "You Want Superbugs With That?")

Ruling on a lawsuit brought last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council (which publishes OnEarth) and several partners, U.S. District Court Judge Theodore Katz said the FDA can no longer delay acting on its own 1977 safety findings and must determine whether there is a need to ban what's known as the subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.

The FDA had previously approved use of the antibiotics in the 1950s, then started proceedings to withdraw that approval after its 1977 findings. But the agency failed to finalize the order due to pressure from drug companies, agribusiness, and their allies in Congress [Scott Dodd, "Superbug Suit: Judge Orders FDA to Act on Antibiotic Use in Livestock,", 2012.03.22].

All that pressure from drug companies probably has something to do with the fact that 80% of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are fed to livestock. That's a big chunk of the market.

Now note: this isn't an activist judge legislating from the bench. This is a judge telling the FDA to poop or get off the pot. If the government has evidence that non-therapeutic antibiotic use in livestock harms public health, the government has an obligation to more strictly regulate that use. Regulating that use, or even banning it, wouldn't put livestock growers out of business; it would just require that they do business in healthier ways (i.e., no CAFOs!).

Update 12:58 MDT: In somewhat related news, Doug Wiken notes that the anti-regulatory efforts of the Republican Party are putting Americans at greater risk of food-borne illnesses, which can have long-term consequences much worse than a day or two hunched over the crapper.

More distantly related (connected in a way Larry Kurtz will appreciate),'s Jeff Turrentine wonders if the current poisonous anti-science politics would have ignored the connection between CFCs and ozone depletion, which we discovered in the 1970s, acted to fix in the 1980s, and which our scientific and political efforts have already made progress in fixing.


  1. larry kurtz 2012.03.24

    It may already be too late for the chemical toilet, Cory.

    "Beef Products Incorporated, a South Dakota meat processor with a strong presence in Iowa, invented the process of treating trim with ammonia over a decade ago."

    The failed response to the proliferation of E. coli in the packing process just looks like more evidence that regulators in South Dakota were muzzled by the industry at the behest of red state legislators.

  2. D.E. Bishop 2012.03.24

    I love their lingo: "Finely textured beef product."


    I worked for 3 years cutting up hogs in a packing plant. I know what that "product" is. All the crap we would never put into our mouths, so finely ground and pulverized and acidified that there is nothing left of it. Doesn't even make good dog food. We've always known that stuff as hotdogs.

    I must say, "pink slime" is a much more accurate descriptive phrase for it.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.03.24

    O.K., D.E., now I'm thinking you must be two or three people. Hog processor, teacher, chaplain... just how many jobs have you done?

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