For decades scientists have been warning us about the link between the overuse of antibiotics on farms and the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria, or superbugs, that are making people sick but nothing has been done. According to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) itself concluded that using antibiotics on farms is unsafe years ago, but ignored its own findings.
Antibiotics are routinely given to healthy animals on farms in a non-therapeutic manner, or before they actually get sick, to compensate for filthy living conditions and to promote growth. The problem with this is that animals receiving low doses of antibiotics on a regular basis become walking reservoirs for bacterial growth that can result in antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.
The NRDC obtained documents through the Freedom of Information Act and published a report, Playing Chicken with Antibiotics, that shows the FDA has ignored its own findings on the dangers of using antibiotics on farms and has continued to allow their use, despite the risks to human health.
According to the report, from 2001 to 2013 FDA scientists studied 30 different antibiotics drugs in the penicillin and tetracycline drug classes that were approved for use decades ago and called 18 of the drugs in question “high risk” because they could expose us to antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which can be spread to other animals on farms or to us through the food supply.
Scarily, the report concluded that 29 of the additives that were reviewed failed to pass the FDA’s first round of safety requirements from 1973. The report also concluded that none of the 30 antibiotics would be approved as additives today under the FDA’s current guidelines because drug manufacturers haven’t submitted sufficient information on their safety.
Even more concerning is that, as the NRDC noted, its findings spread farther than the 30 drugs that were studied because misusing one antibiotic can lead to bacterial resistance in other antibiotics.
“This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA’s poor track record on dealing with this issue. It’s just more overwhelming evidence that FDA – in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis – is turning a blind eye to industry’s misuse of these miracle drugs,” said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the report, adding that the FDA’s inaction is “a breach of their responsibility and the public trust.”
Whether it’s in human medicine or animal agriculture the overuse, or misuse, of antibiotics poses a health risk. The fact that about 80 percent of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used on farm animals who don’t need them should be eliciting a serious call to action from regulators, not decades worth of inaction and bows to agribusinesses and pharmaceutical companies.
In December, the FDA finally took a little tiny step towards addressing the problem when it announced that it would be implementing a voluntary plan to phase out the use of antibiotics in livestock production. The goal is to change the status of certain drugs so they could only be used to treat sick animals with veterinary oversight, but the move was widely criticized for being voluntary. Critics continue to argue that this won’t result in meaningful action to protect human health.
The NRDC is now urging the FDA to withdraw approval of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed and start the process for withdrawing approval for all other classes of medically important antibiotics approved for nontherapeutic livestock use that are not shown to be safe.
Please sign and share the petition urging Congress to pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA) and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (PARA), which will amend the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to effectively ban non-therapeutic use of eight classes of antibiotics that are currently being used on healthy animals, while ensuring sick animals will still get treatment.
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