Antibiotics, such as penicillin and tetracyclines are widely used in animal feed to promote growth in chickens, pigs, and cattle. 80% of the antibiotics used in the U.S. are given to livestock to promote growth and stave off potential infections. The amount of meat which has been treated with antibiotics has grown from 17.8 million pounds per year in 1999 to 29.8 million pounds in 2009.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (“FDA”) has failed to act for more than three decades on scientific evidence, including some of its own findings, showing that the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animal feed can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people. Such infections, known as ‘superbugs’ kill 70,000 Americans each year. By eating meat from animals given antibiotics, humans have become immune to those antibiotics and its use as a treatment for diseases has become less effective. Agricultural uses of cephalosporins have rendered drugs such as Cefzil and Keflex less effective. These drugs are used to treat pneumonia, strep throat, and urinary tract infections. The FDA had previously approved use of the antibiotics to promote growth in livestock in the 1950s, and then started proceedings to withdraw that approval after its 1977 findings that such use could make antibiotics less effective for humans. Nevertheless, the agency failed to finalize the order due to pressure from drug companies, agribusiness, and their congressional allies.
The Obama administration recently announced restrictions on agricultural uses of cephalosporins. In a lawsuit brought last year by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Judge Theodore H. Katz of the Southern District of New York issued an order requiring the FDA to withdraw its approval of antibiotics in livestock to promote animal growth, pending an evidentiary hearing on its harmful effects. The opinion reasoned that the FDA has failed to perform its duties by approving such agricultural use of antibiotics against strong evidence that such use is dangerous to people. Farmers and ranchers now claim that those antibiotics are not only used to promote animal growth but to prevent infections. Judge Katz’s decision was limited to antibiotics used to promote animal growth.
Weisfuse & Weisfuse, LLP has represented clients who have suffered serious infection. In many of these cases, the infections have been resistant to antibiotics. The government should prohibit the use of antibiotics in livestock to promote growth.