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Government Medicine The Courts United States

FDA Sued To Stop Antibiotic Abuse On Factory Farms 298

Hugh Pickens writes writes "Medical groups from the American Medical Association to the American Society of Microbiology have appealed to the government and industry for years to restrict the practice of providing sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics for livestock, lest critical antibiotics become useless for human treatments. Now Tom Laskawy reports that a coalition of environmental groups has decided to sue the Federal Drug Administration to follow its own safety findings and withdraw approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed to healthy livestock when it's not medically necessary. 'While this may cause eyerolls among some who look at this as "just another lawsuit," there's something very important going on with the courts and contested science right now,' writes Laskawy. 'As it happens, one of the main roles of a judge is as "finder of fact." In practice, this means that judges determine whether scientific evidence is compelling enough to force government action."'"
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FDA Sued To Stop Antibiotic Abuse On Factory Farms

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  • by stokessd ( 89903 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:05PM (#36276328) Homepage

    Also fix that burning sensation when I pee...


  • by overshoot ( 39700 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:15PM (#36276386)
    Of course, I may be biased (says /me looking at a recent surgical scar and remembering the discussions with my surgeon of antibiotic-resistant postsurgical infections.)

    Next, maybe some of our environmental guardians will do something about fracking ...

  • Finding of fact? (Score:5, Informative)

    by pesho ( 843750 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:16PM (#36276390)
    What part of the science is contested here? That the large scale use of antibiotics, particularly at low doses produces resistant strains?? This has been established for let's see... 50 years or so...
    • by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:25PM (#36276438)

      People can be amazingly adept at "contesting" science they don't like. See: creationism, vaccines causing autism, climate change denial, or (a few decades ago) cigarettes being harmless.

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        Given that recent lawsuits against cigarette makers have been lost, there seem plenty of people willing to believe they're harmless, even today.

        • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:4, Informative)

          by NNKK ( 218503 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @11:24PM (#36277464) Homepage

          The cases are lost in the US for one of two reasons. Either because the smoker should have known the danger (it's been printed on every pack for decades), or because the issues presented have been foreclosed by a combination of past judgements (e.g. the massive every-attorney-general-in-the-country vs every-major-tobacco-company case) and federal legislation.

          The cases are not being lost on the merits, but on gating issues.

          • by nbauman ( 624611 )

            It was more fun back in the old days when cigarette companies used to go to court and argue

            (1) Cigarettes didn't cause your cancer because cigarettes don't cause cancer

            (2) Everybody knows cigarettes cause cancer so you're totally responsible for your own decision to smoke.

      • People can be amazingly adept at "contesting" science they don't like. See: creationism, vaccines causing autism, climate change denial, or (a few decades ago) cigarettes being harmless.

        (Emphasis mine.)

        I can never understand when people say that. Sure, when people were looking to sue the tobacco companies, it made sensible strategy to claim that they never knew smoking was bad for them, but it's hard to understand why people believed that outside of the case. I mean, my mother was born in the 1930s and was told they were bad for her.

        • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Informative)

          by artor3 ( 1344997 ) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @12:25AM (#36277662)

          Cigarette companies specifically advertised their brands as being the "healthy choice". They would claim to be endorsed by doctors and dentists the way toothpastes do now. They would claim that the filters made them safer, or that they used "mild" or "light" tobacco. They would get testimonials from famous athletes and opera singers, with the obvious subtext that these people are clearly healthy. Of course, the stars giving the testimonials often didn't actually smoke... but that's no different from most modern celebrity endorsements.

          Here's some examples []. My favorite is the Lucky Strikes claiming endorsement by 20,679 physicians -- no more, no less!

      • climate change denial

        I take issue with that, sir! I firmly believe the Earth's climate has never changed. Ever.

    • by icebike ( 68054 )

      The contested part, as best I've been able to determine, is to what degree any of the antibiotic resistant strains is retained in beef flesh, survives cooking, and consumption, to affect humans. Those contesting this don't necessarily look at all possible vectors, such as runoff from pastures and feed lots, and they tend to point out that there is little evidence of any resistant bugs developing in cattle herds to date.

      Its largely an economic argument based on cattle losses, but its not at all clear just h

      • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Informative)

        by similar_name ( 1164087 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:15PM (#36276658)

        The contested part, as best I've been able to determine, is to what degree any of the antibiotic resistant strains is retained in beef flesh

        That's not really contested. Scientist know you can cook food to kill organisms. Most should even be able to tell you why. The problem is how much of the antibiotic properties are retained in an environment where cattle (or other livestock), fed with antibiotic feed, poop and pee. In other words it doesn't matter if the strains in your meat are cooked if the 'environment' is constantly exposed to antibiotics then so are the bacteria that cause infection. Thus, when you get an infection from one of those bacteria, that's been waiting for a cut in your skin, it's already been exposed to the antibiotic. This is known to cause resistance.

        The idea that there is any debate over properly cooked food being a vector for resistant bacteria is a straw man.

        • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:5, Interesting)

          by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @09:13PM (#36276936) Journal
          Whatever is or isn't contested by scientists and researchers, I can confidently say that farmers don't understand the issue: I heard a representative farmers being interviewed on NPR or PBS discussing the routine use of antibiotics for "growth promotin" (the farmer's words) -- he stated that the use of antibiotics in animal feed wasn't a problem because they only used low doses of antibiotics. He seemed to think that the issue was that the antibiotics might get into the food chain, rather than the problem of bugs developing resistance.
        • by icebike ( 68054 )

          The contested part, as best I've been able to determine, is to what degree any of the antibiotic resistant strains is retained in beef flesh

          That's not really contested. Scientist know you can cook food to kill organisms.

          Well, had you read past the part you quoted, you would see that I addressed these issues. Its important to read the whole post.
          And please remember, these are the opinions posted elsewhere that I am reporting, not my own.

          • I did but that first sentence (and fourth beer) altered my perception :) Fair enough that you appear to be saying the same thing.
    • I support fact finding, it might bring up a few important counterpoints that often get overlooked in popular media articles.
      For example:
      1. The drugs commonly used for animal feed additives are not the same ones used by people. Frequently they are different classes and often different generations of drugs. Basically, many of these are the drugs whose usefulness in treating humans was either burned through long ago (by human usage) or never established.
      2. In European countries where laws similar to this pr

      • by shilly ( 142940 )

        Your counterpoints are not that strong:
        1. Bacteria typically develop resistance not to a single antibiotic but to multiple antibiotics. See the post directly before yours.
        2. If the only variable you alter is presence/absence of subtherapeutic antibiotics, I could believe that more animals may end up sick and that more important classes of antibiotics are used. However, this would be a pretty fuckwitted thing to do. In the real world, you would want to mitigate the risks associated with the removal of subthe

        • Re:Finding of fact? (Score:4, Interesting)

          by kaliann ( 1316559 ) on Sunday May 29, 2011 @09:55AM (#36279138)

          1. The number one most common anti-microbial in cattle feed is monensin, an ionophore. This entire class of drugs is nearly exclusively used in animals as a coccidiostat (anti-protozoal). (Some antifungal use in humans, I believe.) The reason it's so useful as a feed additive is that it reduces parasitism by a class of organisms that affect the GI tract. GI tract works better and the animal isn't expending energy to fight the organism.
          2. In the real world, as you say, reducing stock density puts producers out of business. You are saying we should just not use a tool that prevents disease and improves feed efficiency, then further reduce efficiency by reducing throughput. The viability of this option is questionable. It would be lovely, but it would have to be paid for, either subsidized directly by the government or by an increase cost to the consumer. Increasing the cost to the consumer may not even work, because people will find out very quickly how easy it is to reduce meat consumption if it becomes very expensive. I'm comfortable with reduced meat consumption, and comfortable with large sections of the industry going under to reduce stock density, but let's not pretend that this is an easy sell and an obvious solution. It's a grand-scale industry overhaul.
          3. "It's never been shown not to". You realize how unhelpful that phrase is, right? All I would like is for there to be an evaluation of actual risk. It doesn't have to be 100% accurate, but a good estimate would be nice. Reasonable evidence of feed antibiotics significantly contributing to the resistance of a human pathogen - or even an economically significant veterinary pathogen - should be explored. After that, it's pretty much a cost/benefit thing.
          4. While I admit that other causes of resistance does not mean this one should not be investigated, the scale of human antibiotic abuse is a valid reference point when trying to prioritize resources. It also should be considered for perspective.
          5. Listed as a counterpoint because there is a valid economic benefit to the current practice, and changing the status quo should be based on evidence of risk or cost that outweighs benefit. Perhaps it's venal and idiotic to want cheap animal protein, but what are the benefits? I could digress into the benefits of early childhood nutrition on brain development and school performance, but I bet you're familiar with the talking points.

          I just want there to be evidence brought forth and thoroughly evaluated. Antibiotics aren't necessarily evil, and abolishing the low-level prophylaxis has actual costs. The kinds of bugs that grow in animals that aren't feed-treated may pose a higher risk to human health, as they are often bacteria that can transmit to humans more easily, and they get treated after the infection is established, bumping up the likelihood of developing resistance.

            Personally, I don't eat much meat; I try to find humanely raised stuff when I do. I think improving the quality of life for animals in the agricultural industry should be a goal of responsible consumers. I agree that reducing stock density would both improve quality of life and reduce the rate of infectious disease, and I'm willing to pay more for the meat from those situations. All I want from this discussion is for people to rely more on data and actual, demonstrated risk rather than FUD.

  • by dindi ( 78034 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:17PM (#36276396)

    While I completely agree, that regulations have to be a lot stronger about hormones, GM products and antibiotics, I would like to see this go a step further: ban factory farming as a practice. It is inhumane, produces an unhealthy product, outbreaks of infections, excessive pollution and unnecessary suffering. I suggest to watch "Food Inc, Meet your Meat, and Earthlings for the non-faint at heart, both of which talk about the subject from different viewpoints.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by virgnarus ( 1949790 )
      Enjoy that 30 dollar bucket of KFC.
      • by Kenja ( 541830 )
        Better a 30$ bucket of chicken then hemorrhagic ecoli from a 99 cent burger.
        • by Rich0 ( 548339 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @09:24PM (#36276986) Homepage

          Not necessarily. Let's assume that what you say is true. $30 for chicken is probably 6x the normal price. So, what would happen if food costs were 6x across the board?

          Some US Census data:
          Population estimate for 2009 is 307M
          Per capita income $21.5k in 1999
          Total household income = $6.6T

          Recent survey showed about 10% of that is spent on food = $660B. Impact to economy of 6x higher prices is about $3T.

          I doubt the US spends $3T annually on cases of hemorrhagic e. coli.

          Now, of course that chicken won't really be $30, but the impact to the economy of even a modest food price increase is enormous. So, safety at any cost is a foolish policy. When that infant formula costs more maybe those little babies will get a little less of it - and what is the health impact of that?

      • by jd ( 1658 )

        If the bucket averages out at $3 but the medical bills afterwards average out at $30 (because of superbugs, toxicity from avian meds, or whatever), then $30 per bucket with no medical bills afterwards is a save. It doesn't mean that this is the case, what it does mean is that there are cases when $30 for a KFC bucket really IS a win for the consumer, no matter what it feels like at the register.

    • If you and enough of your friends refuse to buy this type of meat, it will stop.

      • by plague911 ( 1292006 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:53PM (#36276558)
        There are too many stupids in this nation for the buying habits of the smart to influence the stupid.
        • Wish I had mod points for this. Boycotts don't work unless you give the brainless masses a very good reason to do it, and protesting factory farming aint gonna do it.
          • by jd ( 1658 ) < minus city> on Saturday May 28, 2011 @11:38PM (#36277518) Homepage Journal

            Jamie Oliver demonstrated by switching a school's menu that a poor diet causes the masses to become brainless. (The improved diet, once accepted, caused exam scores to skyrocket and absence to plumet. After that, both media and schools started taking his views a bit more seriously - except in LA, where he was banned.)

            It follows that you've a self-perpetuating cycle. People on heavily-processed, factory-farmed diets will, in general, be too stupid - as a direct result of those diets - to change.

        • by dindi ( 78034 )

          Even more frightening for me is when I see other countries (not US), where it is actually more expensive and "special" to go to one of these "fast food" places.

          In Costa Rica you will pay more for an equally portioned MC meal than what you would pay at a family restaurant. I am talking about a nice looking, clean simple local place where they serve fresh-made dishes with vegetarian/healthy options.

          Still, 12pm on a Saturday you will see the family restaurant with clients, but MC, KFC, BK and all the crap have

        • by Trip6 ( 1184883 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @10:26PM (#36277256)

          It's not stupidity as much as a money thing. Let's weigh an unseen evil (factory farms) against paying 30% more for meat, when most dual-income families are barely making ends meet as it is. It's a no brainer.

          Same argument goes for "Made in USA" btw.

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      Factory farming (mostly enabled via the production of corn for animal feed at prices far below the actual cost to produce thanks to subsidies) is the reason why Americans can get a hamburger for just $1. Its also one of the biggest reasons why modern Americans are the fattest people in the history of humanity.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Whoa, back up there. Inhumane conditions are bad, that much is clear, and I totally agree that antibiotics are often abused, but factory farm != inhumane conditions Factory farming typically refers to CAFOs, and that has nothing do do with how the animals are raised, but actually just the number. It gets a bad rap, but no small amount of them are just family farms (even some of the big ones) that do, indeed, treat their animals fairly well []. It's like the spinach E. coli outbreak; one jackass lets his cat

      • If raising cattle on antiobiotics is standard practice in most European countries, you can bet it's standard in the USA as well - they're producing for the same global market.

      • by dindi ( 78034 )

        I wonder what you mean on "foodie"? Does that refer to persons who realized, that it is really-really important what you eat, and that a lot of sicknesses are the simple outcome of the preference of taste over whatever your body really needs? Deep fried over veggies, coke over good water. Good water. Then I am a foodie.

        GMO: I do not think we should get over with this. I want to see a label on everything GMO so I can make a choice of buying or not. That is all.

        These farms are not for efficiency. They are for

        • I am in favor of labeling however I think you will be shocked to find most food produced in the US now has GMO content so it is pretty much moot at this point in time

          As far as efficiency, how the heck do you think you get increased profit? It is by increasing efficiency. Economics 101. I can see you have never grasped basic principles of economics.

          As far as not using animals as a resource, good luck with that. Every society on this planet does this. Even other animals do it. You are adhering to a concept th

        • Assuming you don't live in Ethiopia or Cambodia or some other -ia where that's obviously a legitimate concern, what do you mean by "good water"? I have clean drinking water on tap for pennies a gallon, I consider that some pretty good fuckin water. Am I missing out?

          • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

            ...the rants of the blissfully unaware.

            There's plenty of places in the US where the tap water is unfit. It may be due to chemical contamination or just be a biohazard.

            You can't just blindly assume that "the government will make you safe". It doesn't always happen that way and blindly assuming it does tends to ensure that it won't. Not enough people will bother to pay any attention or raise a ruckus if necessary.

            Can't avoid GMO foods.
            Can't avoid stuff made in China.
            Hard to avoid WinDOS.

  • Trouble (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:29PM (#36276452)

    We're running out of antibiotics that there aren't any bugs resistant to, and no new ones are in development because the pharmaceuticals don't see any profit in it.[*] Estimates say it would take a decade to get a new one on the market.

    Meanwhile, we use antibiotics so heavily that environmentalists find them in places like rivers and streams, and public water supplies. It has become a pollutant, but one with a particularly insidious effect.

    [*] Such is the folly of leaving public health dependent on the profit motive.

    • Such is the folly of leaving public health dependent on the profit motive.

      You know, if a country thought it would be worthwhile to have some new antibiotics, it could just form its own socialized pharmaceutical company and support it. Yet they don't.

      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        More to the point, the major contributors to political campaigns would prefer we not do that.

  • by FridayBob ( 619244 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @07:45PM (#36276516) Homepage
    In the Netherlands, this has also been an issue for some time for exactly the same reasons. However, the lobbyists for the pharmaceutical industry, the farming industry and one very large veterinary firm that sells the antibiotics directly to the farmers (giving them as much as they want and making way too much money in the process) seem to have far too much influence in the Hague, which is the seat of the Dutch government. With these rather influential veterinarians arguing that any restrictions placed upon them would be unfair and against EU trade rules, the government is now considering banning all veterinarians from selling their own drugs, forcing their clients to buy directly from normal pharmacies instead. That would be unfortunate, because these pharmacies only have experience with human medicine. Thus there would be the risk of the pharmacies giving or offering (cheaper) alternatives that may not work for dogs, cats, cows, sheep, etc. (apparently, there are plenty of examples of this). This is one of the reasons why vets are also trained as, and usually operate as pharmacists.
    • by mspohr ( 589790 )
      Denmark (and Sweden and others) have successfully banned antibiotics in farm animals with a good result on human health. []
    • One has to wonder if this will have any effect even if the lawsuit is successful because of abuse in the human population.

    • by Rich0 ( 548339 )

      Frankly, as a citizen in the US I'd like to see a general ban on doctors selling products of ANY kind, or receiving payments of any kind from the manufacturer of ANY product.

      You have vets in the US recommending some kind of food for your pet, and guess what, you can only buy it in vets and only from the vet who cares for your pet. I asked my vet about pet insurance, and they only knew about one kind of insurance, but they said that they had reps from some other company visiting them and they were checking

  • by turing_m ( 1030530 ) on Saturday May 28, 2011 @08:52PM (#36276866)

    The USA doesn't grow most of the world's food. Farms in other countries will still use antibiotics irrespective of what the FDA does. The superbugs being developed elsewhere will eventually migrate to every other country. If we are to retain the ability to use the antibiotics we have today, action needs to be taken globally. Not sure how to enforce that, but that's what would have to happen.

I THINK MAN INVENTED THE CAR by instinct. -- Jack Handley, The New Mexican, 1988.