FDA to Address Routine Use of Antibiotics in Animal FeedFarmers in California and the United States routinely use antibiotics in animal feed to help animals grow strong and stay healthy. Unfortunately, this practice is contributing to widespread antibiotic resistance and, as a result, a federal court has ordered that the FDA take action.
“Antibiotic use in animal feed has already been litigated over in California,” said personal injury lawyer James Ballidis, “that the issue has reached the federal courts reflects the severity of the problem.”
In 2011, All About Feed reported that a permanent injunction was filed against a veal farm in California, mandating that the farmer could no longer purchase or sell any animals for food use until they took corrective action to ensure that the veal they were selling did not contain illegal amounts of antibiotics.
This is not the only farmer in the state of California, or throughout the United States, who sells animals for human consumption even when the animal meat contains antibiotics in edible tissue; this farmer simply went over the limit. In fact, for a long time, it has been very common practice for animal meat to contain some trace amounts of antibiotics.
The drug residue comes from the fact that farmers and those in the agricultural industry mix antibiotics into animal feed in order to help animals grow and stay healthy. The California Milk Advisory Board, for example, reports on their website that while therapeutic use is not customary, antibiotics are provided to livestock to keep the livestock dairy cows healthy; to prevent disease transmission; and to produce more food while leaving less of a carbon imprint.
Unfortunately, the widespread use of antibiotics in animal feed is causing some major problems. Exposure to antibiotics from animal products, as well as over-prescribing of antibiotics to people for various medical conditions, has significantly reduced the effectiveness of the medications. At present, antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, such as menthicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), are a serious problem in hospitals and nursing homes.
The dangers of overuse of antibiotics in both humans and in animals has been referred to as "one of the world's top public health problems," by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environment, as well as by numerous other experts. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched an educational campaign in 2004 designed to help promote the appropriate and safe use of antibiotics on the farm. This program was called Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work on the Farm.
Antibiotic use in the farming industry has not only proven detrimental to public health but has also been illegal since 1977. Recognizing the dangers of the extended use of antibiotics on animals, the FDA banned the administration of tetracycline and penicillin on farms until research validated their safety or provided acceptable alternatives.
Fortunately, this decades-old law may finally compel the agency to regulate antibiotics. Ruling on a lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Union of Concerned Scientists, and other groups, a federal judge ordered the FDA to withdraw approval of penicillin and tetracycline.
Whether or not the judge’s decision ultimately influences industry practices remains to be seen. In the meantime, farmers and those running agricultural operations in California and throughout the United States should follow the FDA's 2010 recommendation to never give antibiotics without the guidance and advice of a veterinarian.
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