FDA Reneges On Commitment To Cut Antibiotics in Meat

In a disappointing (and health-endangering) act of negligence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has reneged on its promise to stop the practice of pumping antibiotics into animal feed.

All the way back in 1977, the FDA first announced its commitment to reducing the use of antibiotics in agricultural animal feed. Now, 30 years later, the agency is not only failing to follow through, but is abandoning the idea altogether, with this shocking announcement in the December 22, 2011 Federal Register:

“The Food and Drug Administration…is withdrawing two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing … which proposed to withdraw certain approved uses of penicillin and tetracycline’s intended for use in feeds for food-producing animals.”

This news could not be more disturbing or unjustifiable. There is wide and undisputed recognition of the fast-growing harm to human health caused by feeding antibiotics to livestock—harm that includes increasingly drug-resistant “super-bugs” that bring death and devastation in place of the cures antibiotics once offered.

In June, 2011, The Atlantic reported extensively on this controversy in an article called “The Rise of ‘Super-bugs’: Time to End a Decades-Long Problem,” which stated:

For the past 34 years…while we’ve waited for FDA to take action [on the harm to human health from the practice of feeding healthy farm animals antibiotics], the threat posed by antibiotic-resistant diseases has only grown…antibiotics in meat

Today, nearly 70 percent of all antibiotics is used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals. Drugs that can mean the difference between life and death in humans are routinely mixed into animal feed to make them grow faster and to compensate for unsanitary living conditions.

It’s a wasteful practice that squanders one of the most powerful tools of modern medicine.

While you and I have to get a doctor’s prescription to use antibiotics, livestock producers do not. They can buy as many as they like and give cows, pigs, chickens, and turkeys a steady diet of antibiotics in their feed, encouraging bacteria to adapt and become resistant to the drugs. Those bacteria don’t stay on the farm. They spread to humans and can lead to so-called “super-bugs” that are difficult or impossible to cure.

More than 3 decades ago, the FDA realized that the use of drugs in feed was dangerous and deadly. But tragically, the agency that is supposed to protect our health has decided to ignore it instead, by caving in to industrial and economic pressures—and allowing livestock producers to continue their destructive practices.

The seriousness of this issue cannot be understated: In the same month that the FDA decided to officially ignore the overuse of antibiotics in meat, yet another antibiotic-resistant bacteria strain led to a recall of ground beef after at least 14 people were infected with salmonella.

Take action by purchasing only organic, grass-fed, free-range meats (non-medical use of antibiotics in meat is forbidden in organic farming). You can also choose to actively voice your opinion on past and future FDA policies.