REPORT: The FDA Still Allows ‘High Risk’ Antibiotics To Be Used On Livestock

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A new report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) finds that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified several “high risk” penicillin and tetracycline antibiotics that are used in livestock during an internal review — but has yet to do anything about it.

The vast majority of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in livestock, often for “nontherapeutic” uses such as promoting faster growth or reducing the risk of infections in animals living in unsanitary conditions. Factory farms and large-scale food manufacturers pump approximately 30 million pounds of antibiotics into animals every year.

But the widespread use of these antibiotics has fortified common bacteria like E. Coli and salmonella, making them resistant to the drugs used to treat them. As a consequence, more than half of all U.S. meat contains antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Antibiotic resistance is now becoming a growing threat to humans. As Time reports, over two million Americans are sickened by and 23,000 die from an antibiotic-resistant infection every year, and at least a portion of those infections stem from the food supply.

The FDA has been slow to take action on the matter, often relying on voluntary guidelines rather than issuing hard regulations. And the new NRDC report, compiled after a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request made internal FDA documents available, finds that the agency has done almost nothing to crack down on the food industry despite identifying 26 antibiotics commonly used in animals that don’t meet the enhanced safety standards set in 1973. Furthermore, 18 of these additives are considered “high risk as approved” by the FDA itself.

“The failure to follow up on the recent review of antibiotic feed additives containing penicillin and/or tetracyclines is just the latest example of the FDA’s inaction in the face of mounting evidence of public health threats stemming from the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in livestock,” wrote the study authors. “The FDA should immediately move to end nontherapeutic uses of the reviewed penicillins and tetracyclines and should limit uses of these medicines to treat sick animals or, in rare cases, to control disease outbreaks.”

The report authors also encourage the passage of the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act and the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. The bills would prohibit the use of medically important antibiotics for anything other than treating illness among animals.