Court Hands Down Ruling Against Animal Antibiotics

A federal court ordered the FDA to resume a 35-year-old proceeding that could ban key antibiotics used in animal feed.

Published on: Mar 28, 2012

The Food and Drug Administration proposed banning use of Penicillin and two forms of Tetracycline for animal growth in 1977, and since then proposed some use restrictions, but it never took action despite concern overuse of the drugs could lead to drug-resistant superbugs that spread to humans.

Environmental and consumer groups sued, and a federal court in Manhattan has just ruled in their favor. Ron Phillips is with the Animal Health Institute…tape

"Responsible use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy is important not only to the productivity of farmers but as recent research has shown it is important to the food safety chain," Ron Phillips with the Animal Health Institute said. "Having healthy animals that are kept healthy with the antibiotics moving into the food chain."

Drug makers will have chance to prove antibiotics safe at court hearing.
Drug makers will have chance to prove antibiotics safe at court hearing.

Phillips says FDA has been trying for two years to come up with guidelines for use of antibiotics.

"That would phase out the growth promotion uses of antibiotics while phasing in more veterinary oversight," Phillips said. "We've been working with FDA to try to make that practical and try to make that workable, and really this court decision has probably the unintended consequence of slowing down that process."

The District Court ordered the FDA to grant the drug makers a chance to appear at a hearing and prove the antibiotics are safe, but there seems to be data both ways. Judge Theodore Katz wrote failing drug makers' ability to prove safety, the FDA Commissioner must issue a withdrawal-order. The agency says it's studying Katz's ruling.

Meantime, National Pork Producers Council Chief Veterinarian Liz Wagstrom spoke on the use of Tetracycline in pigs.

"Tetracycline is the most widely used antibiotic in the pig industry," Wagstrom said. "However it is not just for sub-therapeutic or growth promotion uses, it's used widely for other treatment control and prevention uses."

Wagstrom says when Denmark banned Tetracycline and other growth promoters in the 90's, weaned-pig mortality increased and animal growth slowed. She concludes an across-the-board ban would mean higher food prices and lower producer profits.