A judge has ordered the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to take action on its own rule that would stop pig, poultry and other livestock producers from mixing antibiotics into animal feed.
The ruling, made last week by US magistrate judge Theodore Katz, compels the agency to withdraw approvals for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in livestock, unless antibiotic manufacturers can show that they are safe. Public health experts don't expect such evidence to emerge.
The suit was originally brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
In 1977, the FDA concluded that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock and poultry weakened the treatment's effectiveness when used in human medicine. The agency issued an order that would have banned non-medical use of penicillin and tetracycline in farm animals, unless drugmakers could show the drugs were safe.
The rule was never enforced, following vigorous pushback from Congress members and lobbyists for agricultural organisations and drugmakers. Farming groups have always stated that the drugs are needed to keep animals healthy.
The court said, that now those findings obligate the agency to act.
Misuse and overuse
Misuse and overuse of antibiotics can speed up the development of resistance: Bacteria that can withstand the drugs will survive and reproduce, while their antibiotic-susceptible counterparts will evolve out of the picture. The result is decreased effectiveness of antibiotics in human medicine and an increasing threat of deadly Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and other difficult-to-treat infections.
The FDA has 60 days to appeal the ruling. In a statement, the FDA said, "We are studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps."
The FDA approved antibiotic use in animals in 1951.
• US Food and Drug Administration
• Natural Resources Defense Council