Great news! A federal court ruled Thursday that FDA must finally stop lagging when it comes to regulating the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals and follow through on its 1977 proposal to ban the non-therapeutic use of two common antibiotics in animal feed, unless the makers of the drugs can prove their safety.
Yes, the FDA proposal was in limbo for three-and-a-half decades until the agency quietly abandoned it in December 2011, only to limit use of a less common antibiotic in January.
"In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence that the FDA has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe," [Judge Theodore] Katz wrote.
The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit brought against the FDA in May 2011 by environmental and public health groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and GAP coalition partners Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
To say this move is long overdue is quite the understatement. FDA has failed to act in spite of studies funded by the agency itself in the 1980s supporting concerns about the risks of feeding farm animals antibiotics on a daily basis. Transparency on what’s really going on in terms of drug (over)use at agricultural facilities remained characteristically lacking, keeping us reliant on industry whistleblowers to shed some light.
As the plaintiffs asserted in their press release last year, one 2009 study estimated that antibiotic-resistant infections cost Americans $26 billion per year, with 70,000 Americans dying in U.S. hospitals every year from bacterial infections untreatable by antibiotics.
Amidst FDA's unpromising attempt at having industry voluntarily phase out antibiotics, this court order is a victory for everyone in favor of food integrity. Not only will it have an impact on human health, but regulating antibiotic use will also force food producers to rethink the questionable industry practices that created their dependence on unnecessary drugs to begin with.
For more on this topic, see FIC's previous coverage on antibiotic resistance.
Sarah Damian is New Media Associate for the Government Accountability Project, the nation's leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization.