The Food and Drug Administration approved the use of 18 drugs for farm animals, even though an internal review found the drugs present a "high risk" of exposing humans to "super-bacteria" that are resistant to antibiotics.
The review was not announced to the public but came to light after the Natural Resources Defense Council obtained the information with a Freedom of Information Act request. An NRDC analysis of the obtained documents, "Playing Chicken with Antibiotics: Previously Undisclosed FDA Documents Show Antibiotic Additives Don't meet the Agency's Own Safety Standards," is available on the NRDC website.
Some farmers routinely add antibiotics to their animal feed, even when their animals are not sick. Farmers do this for convenience and cost-effectiveness.
Overusing antibiotics, though, can cause bacteria to become resistant to the drugs. Scientists have long warned that these antibiotic-resistant bacteria could then lead to serious outbreaks among humans.
The FDA's internal review was conducted from 2001 to 2010. It looked at 30 antibiotics that the agriculture industry adds to animal feed. Of those 30, the review found that 18 of them would likely pose a "high risk" to human health. Of the remaining 12 antibiotic feed additives, there was not enough information to determine if the additives were safe.
"The evidence is clear. Drugmakers never proved safety. And FDA continues to knowingly allow the use of drugs in animal feed that likely pose a 'high risk' to human health. That's a breach of their responsibility and the public trust," said Carmen Cordova, NRDC microbiologist and lead author of the new NRDC analysis. "This discovery is disturbing but not surprising given FDA's poor track record on dealing with this issue. It's just more overwhelming evidence that FDA – in the face of a mounting antibiotic resistance health crisis – Approved Livestock Drugs is turning a blind eye to industry's misuse of these miracle drugs."
The FDA issued guidelines in December on the use of antibiotics in animal feed that seeks to phase out the use of "medically important" antibiotics. Those guidelines, however, are voluntary.