Court Rules that Rampant Misuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms can Continue

antibiotics livestock
Science & Medicine

antibiotics livestockThe U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in a 2-1 decision that the rampant misuse of antibiotics on factory farms can continue unchecked. Though this decision means that animals’ health will be severely compromised and human beings will be exposed to more “superbugs,” business will continue as usual.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) own findings supported a ban on the over-use of antibiotics, yet the court supports Big Ag and factory farming practices over human and animal health. Due to excessive use of antibiotics, they have become ineffective, and in fact, are promoting disease.

 “This decision allows dangerous practices known to threaten human health to continue,” said Avinash Kar, attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Adding antibiotics to farm animals’ feed, day after day, is not what the doctor ordered and should not be allowed.”

What is worse, the court’s ruling overturned two 2012 district court rulings in cases brought by the NRDC, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen, and Union of Concerned Scientists. These earlier rulings intended for the FDA to halt the regular use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed for healthy animals until drug manufacturers could prove practice was safe.

Judge Robert Katzmann did not agree with the ruling:

“Today’s decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug. It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug. I do not believe the statutory scheme can be read to permit those results.”

Read: Could Oregano Oil Replace Antibiotics for Livestock?

Even healthy farm animals are fed low doses of antibiotics, which is increasing the incident and frequency of unstoppable superbugs. The FDA has even released guidelines stating that this practice should not be followed. Subsequently, an investigation by Food & Water Watch revealed that 89% of antibiotic drugs that the guidelines advises against using to speed growth can still be given to healthy animals for other reasons—therefore, the voluntary guidelines prove worthless. The only thing that would have stopped rampant antibiotic use is a ban.

Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said:

“The misuse of antibiotics in food animal production contributes to the epidemic of antibiotic resistance in our hospitals and communities. Today’s decision is deeply disappointing because it allows voluntary guidelines to take the place of decisive action in confronting one of the most important public health problems of our time.”

Despite this particular court’s ignorant ruling, New York City Council Member Ben Kallos has introduced Resolution 353, calling for a New York State and national ban on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.

“American health is directly affected by the conditions on factory farms. Our government must enact basic rules to prevent disease and better some of the most dire practices of modern factory farms,” said Council Member Kallos.

Kallos’ resolution asks the U.S. government to pass two bills, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1150) and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (S. 1256). These bills would reinstate what the district courts had ruled in favor of putting the burden of proof on drug manufacturers to show that their non-therapeutic antibiotics were indeed necessary, and would not lead to antibiotic resistance in humans.

“Simply put, the rampant misuse of antibiotics on factory farms is putting the health of every American at risk. Since Congress has yet to protect our health with common-sense farm antibiotics regulations, cities and towns across the country are demanding action,” said Eric Weltman, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch. “But no voice speaks louder than that of New York City, so when this resolution is passed, our leaders in Washington will surely take notice.”

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