FDA sued over antibiotics in poultry feed

27-05-2011 | |

A coalition of health and consumer organisations have filed a federal lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration, claiming that the FDA failed to take action to protect human health.

The suit alleges that the FDA has known since 1977 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. Despite this conclusion and laws requiring that the agency act on its findings, the FDA failed to take any action to protect human health.

The lawsuit seeks to “compel FDA to take action on the agency’s own safety findings, withdrawing approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed.”

The organizations suing the FDA include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Chicken and turkeys
Approximately 70% of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals at low doses to promote faster growth and compensate for unsanitary living conditions, according to the coalition’s statement. The antibiotics are added to feed or mixed into water for pigs, cows, chicken and turkeys. Because they are administered at such low levels, they leave surviving bacteria stronger and more able to resist them.

“Accumulating evidence shows that antibiotics are becoming less effective, while our grocery store meat is increasingly laden with drug-resistant bacteria,” Peter Lehner, NRDC executive director, said in the statement.

Antibiotics in poultry
Last year, the FDA urged farmers to give fewer antibiotics to livestock and poultry to reduce the risk of superbugs, multi-drug-resistant bacteria that can be transferred to humans and can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat, are more likely to be fatal, and can require longer and more expensive hospital stays. But FDA officials also stressed the drugs could play an important role on farms when used properly.