Last week a federal judge ordered the FDA to withdraw approval for the use of common antibiotics in animal feed because of fears that overuse is endangering human health by creating antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz ruled that unless drug makers can produce evidence that their use is safe, the FDA must withdraw approval for non-therapeutic use of those drugs.
The federal order by Judge Katz is the result of a lawsuit filed by environmental and public-health groups, including The Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The lawsuit argues that using common antibiotics in livestock feed has contributed to the rapid growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in both animals and humans.
Experts now claim the growth of antibiotic resistance poses as great a threat to global health as Aids and pandemic flu.
The FDA has stalled for 35 years to act on their so-called concerns, when in 1977, the FDA issued two “notices of opportunity for a hearing”about the widespread use in livestock feed of certain antibiotics, particularly tetracyclines and penicillin.
In his ruling, Katz ordered the FDA to follow through on the process it started in 1977. Reuters reports the FDA claimed the proceedings were outdated and that it intended to pursue other regulatory strategies for coping with potential food-safety problems.
“The FDA has not issued a single statement since the issuance of the 1977 (notices) that undermines the original findings that the drugs have not been shown to be safe,” Katz wrote.
In his quest to inform the public about the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, Barry Estabrook, a two-time winner of the prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards for food writing, cites a 35 year-old study conducted by Stuart Levy, a professor of molecular biology and microbiology and of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.
The study proves the problem of antibiotic-resistant “superbugs”is even worse than anyone could have imagined.
In the study involving two groups of chickens, half received feed laced with a low dose of antibiotics that are routinely given to healthy livestock to increase growth rates by US farmers. The other half received drug-free food.
“Within two days, the treated animals began excreting feces containing E. coli bacteria that were resistant to tetracycline, the antibiotic in their feed. (E. coli, most of which are harmless, normally live in the guts of chickens and other warm-blooded animals, including humans.)
“After three months, the chickens were also excreting bacteria resistant to such potent antibiotics as ampicillin, streptomycin, carbenacillin, and sulfonamides. Even though Levy had added only tetracycline to the feed, his chickens had somehow developed what scientists now call multi-drug resistance’ to a host of antibiotics that play important roles in treating infections in people.
“More frightening, although none of the members of the farm family tending the flock were taking antibiotics, they, too, soon began excreting drug-resistant strains of E. coli”
During the intervening 35 years, study after study has confirmed Levy’s findings. The Independent notes that using standard antibiotic regimens, there is a one in 10 chance that treatment of an E.coli infection will fail because the bug is resistant.
And as numbers of resistant infections rise, there will be increasing pressure to use more powerful antibiotics called carbapenems, which are the last line available. But resistance to those is already emerging, according to the Independent.
“In the last two or three years we have seen [organisms] develop which destroy carbapenems. That is a great worry,” Professor Hawkey said.