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Court orders FDA to restrict use of antibiotics in livestock

BOOSTER SHOTS: Oddities, musings and news from the
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March 23, 2012|By Amina Khan, Los Angeles Times / For the Booster Shots blog
  • Hogs are seen at a finishing facility in Auxvasse, Mo.
Hogs are seen at a finishing facility in Auxvasse, Mo. (Jeff Roberson / Associated…)

The Food and Drug Administration must address the use of antibiotics in livestock, a federal judge in New York has ruled in a lawsuit, a signal that the FDA may soon ban the practice due to longstanding public health concerns.

The ruling favors a coalition of plaintiffs including the Natural Resources Defense Council, which filed suit last May in a bid to push the FDA to exert more control over agricultural use of penicillin and tetracycline, two popular antibiotics used in feed to protect chickens, pigs and cattle from disease and speed their growth.

It’s a practice that goes back decades – even though, back in 1977, the FDA raised concerns that giving healthy animals these constant low doses promotes antibiotic-resistant bacteria that could potentially infect people.

"In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown," the court decision noted.

Only 20% of the antibiotics used in the United States are actually given to people suffering from bacterial infections, according to a recent Times health story. Most of these antibacterial drugs are given to healthy livestock.

The Union of Concerned Scientists, which is also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, cheered the decision. 

"This ruling is an important victory for public health," Margaret Mellon, senior scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists' Food & Environment Program, said in a statement.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Food Animal Concerns Trust and Public Citizen are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Follow me on Twitter @aminawrite.

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