We filed a lawsuit in federal court yesterday against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to access documents concerning scientific risk assessments of the human health threat posed by antibiotic overuse in animal feed. FDA failed to respond in a timely fashion to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request; we filed the lawsuit to acquire the documents.
Almost seventy percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are fed to livestock that are not sick, to promote faster weight gain and compensate for unsanitary, crowded conditions. This practice is contributing to the looming public health crisis of antibiotic resistance, as leading public health and medical organizations have repeatedly warned. Antibiotic resistance can lead to longer illnesses, the use of antibiotics with greater side effects, and even death when treatments fail. Yet, in the face of the rising public health threat of antibiotic resistance, the FDA has largely failed to act.
FDA stated in 2004 that it had “completed microbiological food safety reviews of the last of seven approved penicillin and penicillin combination products,” and “[r]eview of several approved tetracycline products [was] underway.” In May 2004, the FDA sent letters to some drug manufacturers explaining the results of FDA’s risk assessments of previously approved animal drug products containing penicillin and/or tetracyclines, concluding that the use of such drugs in animal feed is high risk.
We have requested from FDA any documents concerning scientific reviews of the safety of medically important antibiotics used in animal feed. We believe that FDA has information on whether these uses of antibiotics are safe, and we think that information ought to be made public. Our lawsuit will compel a response, since they have ignored our initial request.
Unfortunately, FDA’s failure to respond to our FOIA request continues an all-too-familiar pattern of failing to respond to citizen concerns, ignoring the law, and a general failure to take meaningful action on the issue of antibiotic resistance.
It’s time for FDA put public health first.