Jim Porter: Antibiotic use in livestock feed unsafe? | SierraSun.com

Jim Porter: Antibiotic use in livestock feed unsafe?

TRUCKEE, Calif. and#8212; In a new court ruling sure to shake up the livestock industry, a federal court directed the Food and Drug Administration to address the human health risks of antibiotic use in animal feed. The FDA has already appealed the decision.

Health groups have long argued that overuse of antibiotics in animal feed to enhance growth (think beef cattle) is endangering human health by creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics Used to Stimulate Growth

In the 1950and#8217;s, the FDA approved the use of antibiotics to stimulate growth and improve feed efficiency in food-producing animals, such as cattle, swine and chickens. Antibiotics used for growth promotion are typically administered through animal feed or water on a herd rather than on an individual basis.

If you have ever read Michael Pollenand#8217;s book The Omnivoreand#8217;s Dilemma, you know a central tenet is that cattle were never intended to eat corn, yet federal agencies and the corn producing lobby manipulated the market and laws such that corn is the primary feed for most cattle raised for food. You know, and#8220;corn-fedand#8221; beef. The use of corn as food results in animal illnesses giving rise to the need for antibiotics; plus antibiotics are added to the food to stimulate growth and improve feed efficiency.

Pollan in Chapter 3: and#8220;The unnaturally rich diet of corn that undermines a steerand#8217;s health fattens his flesh in a way that undermines the health of the humans who will eat it. The antibiotics these animals consume with their corn at this very moment are selecting, in their gut and wherever else in the environment they end up, for new strains of resistant bacteria that will someday infect us and withstand the drugs we depend on to treat that infection.and#8221;


For over 30 years, the FDA has taken the position that the widespread use of certain antibiotics in livestock for purposes other than subtherapeutic use (disease treatment) poses a threat to human health.

In 1973, the FDA issued a regulation that the Agency withdraw approval of the use of antibiotics in animal feed, other than for subtherapeutic purposes, unless drug sponsors submitted evidence that the drugs were safe to man and animals.

In 1977, the FDA issued notices announcing its intent to withdraw approval of the use of penicillin and tetracyclines in livestock for growth promotion and feed efficiency on the ground they had not been shown to be safe.

Powerful Lobby

But, funny thing. The farming and livestock industries prevailed in Congress. Surprise, Surprise. No hearings were held. Evidence that the wide-spread use of antibiotics in food-producing animals created a safety risk for humans by creating antibiotic-resistant bacteria was ignored. (An estimated 80% of all antibiotics sold in the United States are for use in agriculture according to data reported by the FDA.)

FDA Sued

A wide spectrum of plaintiffs, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, sued to compel the FDA to complete the proceedings started in 1977 and#8212; specifically to compel the Agency to withdraw approval for subtherapeutic (non-medicinal) use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed.

Court Ruling

A United States Magistrate just ruled in favor of the Plaintiffs and against the FDA and#8212; ordering the Agency to initiate proceedings to withdraw those two drugs for use for growth promotion and feed efficiency in animals. Calling all beef lobbyists and#8212; to the Capital and#8212; quick.

The Magistrate: and#8220;For over thirty years, the Agency has been confronted with evidence of the human health risks associated with the widespread subtherapeutic use of antibiotics in food-producing animals, and, despite a statutory mandate to ensure the safety of animal drugs, the Agency has done shockingly little to address these risks.and#8221; The FDA behaved in an and#8220;arbitrary and capriciousand#8221; manner when it dismissed the lawsuit that asked the Agency to consider banning farmers from using antibiotics on livestock for growth enhancing reasons.

Michael Pollan will be pleased.

Jim Porter is an attorney with Porter Simon, with offices in Truckee and Reno. He is a mediator and was the Governor’s appointee to the Fair Political Practices Commission and McPherson Commission, both involving election law and the Political Reform Act. He may be reached at porter@portersimon.com or at the firmand#8217;s website http://www.portersimon.com.

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