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FDA must stop letting meat industry use antibiotics in animal feed, federal judge says


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Scott Olson

A federal judge ordered the United States Food and Drug Administration to stop letting meat companies feed antibiotics to animals, Reuters reported today. The ruling comes from a lawsuit filed against the FDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other public health groups.

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U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz ordered the FDA to withdraw support of antibiotic use in animal feed, unless makers of the drugs can prove that such uses are safe.

Antibiotics are commonly fed to animals kept in unsanitary factory farms, because the drugs stave off infections in the short-term. But long-term use of antibiotics in meat is dangerous because it can cause antibiotic-resistant superbugs in humans, researchers say.

Last week World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan warned that overuse of antibiotics would lead to devastating consequences. 

"Things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill," she said, according to CBS News. Last year researchers found that a bacteria that causes serious infections in humans was present in half of all grocery store meat, CNN reported. And roughly half of the contaminated samples had a form of the bacteria that is resistant to common antibiotics.  

The FDA did think about withdrawing support for antibiotic use in animal feed--but that was back in 1977. The agency never followed through.

"In the intervening years, the scientific evidence of the risks to human health from the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock has grown, and there is no evidence that the FDA has changed its position that such uses are not shown to be safe," Katz wrote, according to Reuters. 

In his ruling, Katz ordered the FDA to finally follow through on the process it started in 1977, Reuters reported.