A couple of months ago, we wrote about the overuse of antibiotics, and how the FDA had curbed use of some of them in livestock. The concern was that inappropriate use of antibiotics can encourage development of drug-resistant bacteria—the “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” scenario.
Last month, a federal judge ordered the FDA to step up its regulation of antibiotics for farm use. According to AboutLawsuits.com, he said that the agency must begin eliminating nonmedical use of penicillin and tetracycline on livestock.
The venerable bacteria-killers are administered in low doses to cattle, pigs and fowl not because the animals are ill, but to promote growth and protect against disease. Bad idea. Using antibiotics without presence of infection (and sometimes even when there is one) is unsafe for humans. It serves only to create superbugs, such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bacteria (MRSA). These bacteria are responsible for 6 in 10 hospital staph infections, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says 5,000 people die from them every year. Some experts put the total annual MRSA death toll at 20,000.
Estimates of antibiotics in farm animals are as high as 7 in 10 uses. In 1977 the FDA said it would begin limiting nontherapeutic use of these drugs, but failed to do in the livestock industry. Environmental and consumer advocates sued.
Now, pharmaceutical companies might be required to petition the FDA for approval before antibiotics may be used in animals, and must prove them to be safe for humans. Of course, the FDA may well appeal the ruling. The FDA Law Blog said it would be surprising if the agency doesn’t appeal, “given FDA’s likely view that it intrudes on the Agency’s ability to set regulatory priorities.”
The blog also said that if the decision isn’t appealed, or is affirmed on appeal, the precedent would invite other parties to pursue legal means to force the FDA to remove any particular drug product.
This issue isn’t over.