FDA Can Curtail Antibiotic Crisis by Ending Misuse in Livestock Animals, Say Health Advocate Groups in New Lawsuit

The misuse of these medicines has contributed to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — a growing public health crisis responsible for 35,000 deaths and over 2.8 million cases of illness each year in the United States


Melodie Mendez, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Cara Cook, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

Charlotte Isle, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT)

Darcey Rakestraw, 2050 Strategies

Nydia Gutiérrez, Earthjustice

To protect the safety of consumers, meat processing workers and farming communities, a coalition of public health advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and its Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), challenging the refusal to phase out unnecessary uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

Approximately two-thirds of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in food-producing animals, and are often administered to healthy animals en masse to compensate for the higher risk of infections typically caused by cramped, unsanitary, or stressful conditions. The misuse of these medicines has contributed to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria — a growing public health crisis responsible for 35,000 deaths and over 2.8 million cases of illness each year in the United States.

In 2016, NRDC, Earthjustice, FACT, Public Citizen, and several other public health and consumer groups petitioned FDA to ban the use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention in livestock and poultry in the absence of illness. Five years later, FDA denied the petition despite the agency “generally agree[ing]” that the use of antibiotics “can contribute to the development and proliferation of antimicrobial resistant bacteria.” FDA’s denial failed to address the petition’s core concern that use of medically important antibiotics for so-called disease prevention purposes in livestock and poultry poses a significant threat to human health. The lawsuit filed today explains that FDA failed to adequately consider the evidence and ignored the central problem presented in the 2016 petition.

Plaintiffs in the case include Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and Public Citizen; Earthjustice will serve as co-counsel.

Statements from Plaintiffs in the Case:

“Nurses are on the frontlines caring for people made sicker by antibiotic resistant infections. Antibiotic resistant infections can lead to longer hospital stays, more costly treatment, and more pain and suffering. A crucial part of reducing antibiotic resistance is to only use them when an infection is identified. Health professionals are doing our part to combat antibiotic resistance in healthcare. Yet, the non therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is threatening the progress being made. The FDA needs to do their job and end the use of antibiotics for disease prevention in livestock. This is critical so that we have antibiotics at our disposal for many years to come.” – Katie Huffling, executive director, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

“Since the 1970s, the FDA has recognized that the overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock fuels the antibiotic resistance crisis and compromises the effectiveness of life-saving drugs for everyday people. It is shocking how little the FDA has done to safeguard public health from these risks in the last 50 years. The longer FDA waits to take action, the more people this crisis will harm.” – David Wallinga, MD, senior health officer, NRDC

“Antibiotics are crucial treatments for a wide range of bacterial infections — including pneumonia, strep throat, and urinary tract infections. And effective antibiotics are life-saving for immunosuppressed patients, including those who have received organ transplants or chemotherapy for cancer. The FDA must do more to combat increased antibiotic resistance.” – Dr. Michael Carome, director, Health Research Group, Public Citizen

“The FDA has allowed giant meat companies to habitually overuse antibiotics putting everyone’s health at risk. This is absolutely unnecessary as animals raised under healthy conditions do not need routine antibiotics. FDA needs to stop deferring to the interests of the giant drug and meat industries and fulfill its mission to protect human health.” – Steven Roach, Safe and Healthy Food program director, Food Animal Concerns Trust

“Hasn’t the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything? Uncontrollable diseases wreak havoc on the world economy and kill millions of people. Wasting precious antibiotics simply to compensate for unsanitary conditions at animal factories risks the faster spread of antibiotic resistant disease that are hard or impossible to cure. It’s time the FDA followed the law and put an end to this unconscionable practice.” – Carrie Apfel, senior attorney, Sustainable Food and Farming Program, Earthjustice

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