Five Groups Sue FDA

Public interest groups have been against wholesale antibiotic use in cattle for more than 30 years. Like other health concerns (cell phone radiation, genetically modified foods), those who would lose out financially have argued that without proof they won’t change. And sometimes the proof can take a long time to emerge, even though people have a pretty strong feeling that the accusations make sense. Unfortunately such widespread practices make proof difficult (try finding someone who doesn’t use a cell phone).

This is a layman’s view of the process:

  • Healthy cattle are fed antibiotics
  • Cattle pee
  • Antibiotics are mixed into groundwater and end up everywhere

You could say the same about human use of antibiotics, except in the USA the usage ratio is 4 parts cattle, 1 part human. And we only prescribe to humans who are sick.

So, finally, the fight will have its day in court:

Several environmental and public health groups filed suit against the Food and Drug Administration on Wednesday to try to force the government to stop farmers from routinely adding antibiotics to livestock feed to help animals grow faster.

The groups say widespread agricultural antibiotic use and the FDA’s allowance of the practice are compounding a public health crisis: the increasing prevalence of “superbugs” that infect people and do not respond to antibiotics.

“The longer we use these drugs, the less effective the arsenal becomes,” said Margaret Mellon, a senior scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, which filed the complaint in federal court with the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animals Concern Trust and Public Citizen.

Superbugs Might Persist

Until now scientists thought that if you were to remove antibiotics from the environment, antibiotic-resistant superbugs would not be able to compete with regular bacteria:

That’s because maintaining a chunk of DNA from another organism – or coping with a new antibiotic resistance mutation – uses up a cell’s resources and leaves it less competitive once the antibiotic has been removed…

New Scientist reports that studies have shown that a third of superbugs remained more competitive in the absence of antibiotics. The process is known as positive epistasis, but researchers have not yet figured out why it would happen.