• Fri, Mar 23 2012

Good News: Meat Growers Might Finally Have To Stop Feeding Unsafe Antibiotics To Livestock

antibiotics in meat

In 1977, the FDA started the paperwork to withdraw their approval for the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock, because they had found that the antibiotics had not been proven safe enough for regular consumption. But then the government body never actually finished it–not because antibiotics were shown to be safe, or because they reversed their decision–they just never got around to it. And as a result, for 35 years, Americans have been eating meat that contains antibiotics…and superbugs. Now, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz has ordered that they finish the job, once and for all.

“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 stated in his ruling.

Yup. Because they never finished the job, we’ve all been eating drug-and-bug filled meat. For years.

Antibiotics are often fed to livestock as a way to promote growth and save money, because cows, pigs, turkeys, and chickens that are hopped up on the drugs eat less, but get fatter–without the use of growth hormones or other unsavory practices. However, that means that meat labeled “hormone-free” may still contain high amounts of the penicillin or tetracyclines, which has led to a large increase in drug-resistant “superbugs” in the last few decades.

But because the FDA never actually finished the proceedings to end the use of these drugs, farmers and drug makers have continued to, completely legally, profit from antibiotic-and-superbug-loaded meat products; in 2009, the FDA estimated that about 29 million pounds of antibiotics were purchased for the sole purpose of feeding them to livestock. Which didn’t sit well with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, The Natural Resources Defense Council, and other public health groups, who filed a lawsuit in May of last year to end the practice for good. Today, Katz handed down his ruling: either prove that antibiotics don’t, in any way, contribute to the development of drug-resistant viruses, or withdraw approval of antibiotic use.

Now, drug producers will be charged with proving that superbugs aren’t at all linked to antibiotics in meat, and that the use of antibiotics is safe. Which they’ll probably hire a team of questionable scientists to do. But even if they do, it’s good to know that there are public policy offices and even federal judges who are on the side of the consumer. Now let’s just hope the FDA follows through this time.

Image: Sponner via Shutterstock

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