A federal judge has ordered the FDA to start proceedings that could lead to an end to the use of common antibiotics in animal feed.
The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) had “proposed” banning the use of penicillin and tetracycline for animal growth way back in 1977. It was never actually implemented.
But under this new court ruling, FDA must first give drug makers a chance to prove their antibiotics are safe. And if they fail, the FDA must issue a withdrawal order.
The plaintiffs that filed the lawsuit argue that using common antibiotics in livestock feed has contributed to the rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria in both animals and people.
In 1977, the FDA concluded that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock, poultry and other animals weakened the treatment's effectiveness in humans.
The agency issued an order that would have banned nonmedical use of penicillin and tetracycline in farm animals, unless drugmakers could show the drugs were safe.
But the rule idled for more than three decades, after objections from members of Congress and lobbyists for the agriculture and drug industries.
Farming groups have long argued that the drugs are needed to keep animals healthy, though many natural food producers dispute such claims.
In a ruling handed down last week, Judge Theodore Katz said the FDA must begin steps to withdraw approval of the two antibiotics for routine use in animals, siding with four consumer safety groups that brought a lawsuit against the agency.
The court ruling will not immediately halt the use of antibiotics on farms. The FDA must first give drug companies a chance to respond and schedule a public hearing.
"If, at the hearing, the drug sponsors fail to show that use of the drugs is safe, the FDA commissioner must issue a withdrawal order," ruled Katz, a judge in New York City.
Public health advocates have been pushing the federal government to put more restrictions on antibiotics for decades.
According to a FDA spokesman the agency is "studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps."