Cow

A New York federal court has ruled that the FDA cannot delay its regulatory proceedings on determining the safety of antibiotics, including penicillin and tetracyclines, routinely used in industrial farming livestock animal feed.

The agency must withdraw approvals for the antibiotics in animal feed unless the drug manufacturers can prove that the drugs are safe for human health, said the court’s ruling. Deadlines were imposed on the FDA despite arguments from the agency that a schedule for the regulatory proceedings was not necessary.

Antibiotic use in animal feed is a growing concern for health and environmental experts and organizations including the NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). The NRDC sued the FDA earlier this year in an effort to address the threats connected with the overuse of antibiotics, which are so excessive that the World Health Organization has warned that a ‘post-antibiotic era’ could be underway. The organization says that as far back as 1977, the FDA was aware of human health risks connected with the use of antibiotics in animal feed.

Now commonplace in industrial farming, antibiotics are routinely fed to animals as a preventative measure in reducing the risk of developing infections or spreading diseases that are frequent in the close and crammed unsanitary conditions. The antibiotics are also used to increase animal weight and speed up maturity, which means a quicker turnaround on the number of animals moving through a factory farm and higher profits for the industrial farms that can house millions of animals in a single location.

Excessive use of antibiotics in industrial farming has led to significantly resistant pathogens that cause human and animal illnesses that become untreatable with conventional antibiotics. Resistance to antibiotics can cause more serious illnesses, longer hospital stays, the use of drugs with more serious side effects, and in some cases, untreatable illnesses that  result in death.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: Paul Stevenson