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FDA Is Ordered to Restrict Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

 

 

 

A vast majority of antibiotics used in the United States still goes to treat animals, not humans. Meanwhile, outbreaks of illnesses from antibiotic-resistant bacteria have grown in number and severity.

 

A federal magistrate judge has ordered the Obama administration to alert drug makers that the government may soon ban the common agricultural use of popular antibiotics in animals because the practice may encourage the proliferation of dangerous infections and imperil public health.

 

The order, issued by Judge Theodore H. Katz of the Southern District of New York, has the effect of restarting a process that the FDA began 35 years ago in hopes of preventing penicillin and tetracycline, two of the nation’s most popular antibiotics, from losing their effectiveness in humans because of their widespread use in animal feed to promote growth in livestock like chickens, pigs and cattle. The order comes two months after the Obama administration announced restrictions on agricultural uses of cephalosporins, a critical class of antibiotics that includes drugs like Cefzil and Keflex, which are commonly used to treat pneumonia, strep throat and skin and urinary tract infections.

 

The FDA is expected to issue within days draft rules that would bar the use of penicillin and tetracycline – highly popular in agricultural settings – in animal feed to further growth, the same issue tackled by Judge Katz. A decade ago, the FDA banned indiscriminate agricultural use of a powerful class of antibiotics, called fluoroquinolones, that includes the medicine Cipro. The judge’s order may accelerate the FDA’s incremental efforts to restrict common agricultural practices that are viewed by microbiologists and other medical researchers as leading to the growth of bacteria that are resistant to common antibiotic treatments, a development that many doctors say has cost thousands of lives.

 

Antibiotics were the wonder drugs of the 20th century, and their initial uses in both humans and animals were indiscriminate. Farmers were impressed by the effects of penicillin and tetracycline on the robustness of cattle, chickens and pigs, and added the drugs in bulk to feed and water, with no prescriptions or sign of sickness in the animals. By the 1970s, public health officials had become worried that overuse was leading to the development of killer infections resistant to treatment. In 1977, the FDA announced that it would begin the process of banning these uses. But the powerful House and Senate appropriations committees passed resolutions urging the FDA not to follow through on these efforts, and the agency retreated.

 

Environmental and health groups petitioned the FDA in 1999 and 2005 to restart the process to ban the drugs from being overused on farms. In January, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists filed suit against the FDA On Thursday, Judge Katz ruled that these groups had won their case without need for a trial.

 

Judge Katz ordered the FDA to alert drug manufacturers of its intention to end its approval for popular uses of penicillin and tetracycline to promote growth in animals. The manufacturers can request a hearing to present evidence that these uses are safe. If the companies have such evidence, the drugs can continue to be used as they are in agriculture

 The New York Times, March 23, 2012, by Gardiner Harris

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