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FDA Reneges on Promise to Consider Limits to Animal Antibiotics

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FDA Reneges on Promise to Consider Limits to Animal Antibiotics

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Monday, December 26, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will no longer consider withdrawing its approval for the routine use of penicillin and tetracyclines in food-producing animals, despite mounting evidence that traces of these drugs in retail meat reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics in humans, the agency quietly announced in the Federal Register the Thursday before Christmas.

The decision follows a decades-long campaign by consumer interest groups, and the agency’s own guidance issued 18 months ago, showing that antibiotic use in healthy livestock and poultry is unnecessary and poses a threat to public health.

In its decision, the FDA states it is canceling two 1977 notices of opportunity for a hearing because it is “engaging in other ongoing regulatory strategies developed since the publication of the [notices] with respect to addressing microbial food safety issues.” Sidestepping its previous criticism of subtherapeutic use of antibiotics to prevent disease and spur weight gain in animals, the agency says it no longer considers disease control or prevention to be subtherapeutic uses.

But the timing of the announcement is inauspicious. Last week,  the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced a recall 0f an undetermined amount of ground beef contaminated with Salmonella Typhimurium, an antibiotic-resistant strain, that has sickened at least 14 consumers and hospitalized seven.  The beef was processed by Maine-based retailer Hannaford and was distributed in Maine, New York, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a consumer advocacy group, petitioned the USDA in May to declare Typhimurium and three other antibiotic-resistant Salmonella strains as “adulterants.” Under federal law, such a declaration would make products that contain the bacteria illegal to sell and would presumably encourage enhanced monitoring for the pathogens before meat enters the market.

Salmonella Typhimurium has been implicated in two previous meat-related outbreaks, according to CSPI.