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Consumer groups sue FDA over antibiotics in animal feed

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 26-May-2011

A coalition of consumer advocacy groups has filed a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), claiming it has failed in its legal responsibility to address overuse of antibiotics in animal feed.

The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), Public Citizen and the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) filed the lawsuit in a New York District Court on Wednesday.

“We’ve been fighting the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock for more than 30 years,” said senior scientist and director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS Margaret Mellon. “…We hope this lawsuit will finally compel the FDA to act with an urgency commensurate with magnitude of the problem.”

The FDA itself has urged the phasing out of antibiotics in meat as recently as last year, when the agency produced draft guidelines for reducing the use of growth-promoting antibiotic drugs for meat-producing animals – expected to be finalized in 2011 – saying it contributes to drug resistance in humans.

“The development of resistance to these drugs, and the resulting loss of their effectiveness, poses a serious public health threat,” the FDA said.

Weighing the costs

But farming groups have expressed concern that proposals to phase out antibiotics for growth promotion would be costly – which could lead to higher meat prices.

NPPC president Sam Carney, a pork producer from Adair, Iowa said at the time that phasing out antibiotic use could have a tremendous negative impact on animal health and, ultimately, the safety of food.”

According to the lawsuit, the FDA allows some non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animal feed, even though it said the practice was unsafe 30 years ago.

Testing petition

One of the co-plaintiffs in the case, CSPI, also filed a separate regulatory petition with the FDA on Wednesday, asking it to require testing of ground meat and poultry products for four antibiotic-resistant strains of salmonella.

Dr. Stephen Lerner, infectious disease specialist at Wayne State University School of Medicine, said: “This petition would reduce human exposure to some dangerous drug-resistant Salmonella, which is crucial because our critically-important antibiotics are losing effectiveness and they aren’t being replaced by new ones. We must do all that we can to reduce antibiotic-resistant infections from food.”

A recall of 55,000 pounds of frozen turkey burger products from Jennie-O Turkey Store last month was found to be contaminated with an antibiotic-resistant salmonella strain, causing illnesses across at least 12 states.

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