cows eating

The U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the FDA does not have to ban farms from putting antibiotics in animal feed for reasons other than treating illnesses.

Used to rapidly increase weight, putting antibiotics in animal feed is a common and highly controversial practice because of the rise in widespread antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infections.

“Today, 80 percent of all the antibiotics sold in the United States are used in livestock production – not humans,” NRDC said  in a statement. “Since FDA first recognized the risks of giving low doses of antibiotics in animal feed day after day, nearly four decades ago, the science on the risks of such use has only gotten stronger.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, at least 23,000 Americans will die this year from drug resistant infections. The CDC says there is“strong scientific evidence of a link between antibiotic use in food animals and antibiotic resistance in humans,” and warns of “potentially catastrophic consequences” if we don’t take steps to slow antibiotic use.

The White House recently announced that it would be appointing an advisory committee to address the issue between antibiotics in animal feed and antibiotic-resistant infections. But that wasn’t enough for the court that overturned two district court rulings in cases brought about by environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists. The groups insist that giving antibiotics to healthy animals is an unsafe and potentially harmful practice.

“As previous court rulings made clear, FDA has failed to follow its own scientific evidence and stop this practice. Unfortunately, today’s Appeals Court decision effectively gives FDA a free pass to ignore the science when it is politically inconvenient,” said Jen Sorenson, NRDC attorney.  “We will evaluate all our legal options, and we will continue to push to end the dangerous and unnecessary use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick through every avenue available to us.”

Find Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

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Image: the daniel rowe