Merry Xmas from the FDA

English: Description: Concentrated animal feed...

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Last week, just before Christmas, the FDA quietly announced that they were abandoning a decades-old proposal to stop the common factory-farm practice of indiscriminately feeding antibiotics to livestock. As noted by Wired in this piece, “For 34 years, the FDA has been contending that administering small doses of antibiotics to healthy animals is an inappropriate use of increasingly scarce drugs — a position in which it is supported by organizations as mainstream as the American Medical Association.”

In this article, NPR puts it this way: “Scientists worry that such casual use of antibiotics has fostered the growth of bacteria that are resistant to those antibiotics…. In 1977, in the early days of Jimmy Carter’s administration, the FDA took a first formal step toward stopping the use of antibiotics in animal feed. It put out a ‘notice of opportunity for a hearing’ on a proposal to ban or severely restrict such use of penicillin and tetracycline. Then things stalled. The hog and poultry industry protested. There were calls for more research, which continues to this day. Different administrations, with different priorities, came and went. The current leaders of the FDA have adopted a different approach. It involves persuasion, rather than regulation.” As the Wired report notes, “After 18 months, the guidance is still in draft, and has never been finalized; and even in draft, the industry opposes it, calling into question the likelihood of ‘voluntary’ adherence if it were to become final.”

As this report from Grist points out, “Inaction has consequences: According to the vast majority of microbiologists and public health experts, restrictions on agricultural uses are key to preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics as well as to preventing the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria like MRSA and salmonella Heidelberg (cause of last summer’s record-breaking ground turkey recall). And it’s no small dosage: Every year 29 million pounds of antibiotics are given to animals — often via their feed. That figure represents 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the U.S.”

Tom Laskawy at Grist continues: “On the brighter side, several organizations, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and Public Citizen have actually filed a lawsuit against the FDA demanding the agency restrict antibiotics in animals. This is promising, because courts have shown more interest in defending science than the federal agencies…. So it may just fall to a federal judge to determine what’s truly good for the public interest. Of course, it would be nice if the agency actually tasked with that responsibility would step up to the plate. But I guess that’s just too much to ask.”

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