Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments et al. v. FDA et al. (Antibiotic Resistance)

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Credit: Kent Kanouse via Flickr, CC-BY-NC 4.0

Antibiotic resistance—the ability of disease-causing bacteria to withstand the drugs designed to kill them—is one of the greatest threats to public health today. But what’s driving the development and spread of these antibiotic-resistant superbugs? A major culprit: the misuse and overuse of medically important antibiotics in livestock and poultry production.

That’s why Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Food Animal Concerns Trust, NRDC, and Public Citizen, with Earthjustice as co-counsel, are suing the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to address the antibiotic crisis and its public health risks.

Approximately two-thirds of medically important antibiotics sold in the United States—including penicillins, tetracyclines, and erythromycins—are sold for use in livestock and poultry. Many of these antibiotics are not used to treat sick animals but rather are an attempt to prevent diseases that tend to occur when animals are kept in cramped, unsanitary, and often stressful conditions common to industrial livestock facilities.

The routine use of antibiotics can cause antibiotic-resistant bacteria to spread from livestock animals into our food supply, and from animal manure into the broader environment and local communities via contaminated air, dust, and water. Food and farm workers are at heightened risk of hard-to-treat infections because they are exposed to resistant bacteria on farms and in slaughterhouses and meatpacking facilities. They may also inadvertently bring antibiotic-resistant bacteria back to their families and communities.

The FDA has shirked its duty to ensure that the use of drugs in food-producing animals is safe for human health. NRDC and partners petitioned FDA in 2016 to withdraw approval of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention purposes in livestock and poultry. FDA arbitrarily denied the petition five years later without addressing the public health harms at the crux of the petition.

On January 24, 2023, our coalition of public health advocacy groups sued the FDA over its unlawful decision. We await its response.

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