Court Rules Antibiotics in Animal Feed Are Just Fine, So We're Screwed

In Depth

A federal appeals court has reversed a lower court’s ruling regarding the use of antibiotics in animal feed, which is great news for fans of dying from previously-treatable infections caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A divided 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals in New York, ruling 2-1, upheld the FDA’s decision to reject two citizen challenges to its policy, which does not ban the use of penicillin or tetracyclines in livestock feed, regardless of animal illness. For those wondering why the hell farms would use antibiotics on animals who aren’t actually sick, it’s because the use of antibiotics promotes weight gain and increases their profit margins.

This is a problem considering there is strong evidence the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed is greatly aiding the rise of “superbugs” — bacteria resistant to known antibiotics and capable of allowing previously-treatable infections to kill people. Since humanity tends to catch most of our infections and diseases from animals,* this is somewhat of an issue. Basically, the FDA and the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals just said “fuck you, Americans’ health; we’ve decided the agricultural industry’s profit margins are more important than whether you live or die.” I am so very shocked. This is my shocked face.

It’s worth noting that the use of antibiotics in animal feed is almost certainly not the only cause of the rise of superbugs, though there’s ample evidence they’re the primary cause (in 1997, 50% of antibiotics were used on humans and 50% on animals, and in 2013, the number was up to 80% on animals). Overprescription of antibiotics for illnesses they don’t help in any way, such as bronchitis, is surely a factor. The fact that there haven’t been any new antibiotic treatments since 1987 most likely also has something to do with it. The natural mutation of bacteria towards antibiotic resistance (something that we’ve always known about) isn’t to be discounted, either. All of these causes taken together, though, are causing mutations and adaptations among bacteria at a never-before-seen rate:

“Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill,” says Dr Keiji Fukuda, WHO’s Assistant Director-General for Health Security. “Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars allowing us to live longer, live healthier, and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”

But hey, who cares about people potentially dying from infections we should’ve been able to treat? ALL MUST BOW AT THE ALTAR OF INDUSTRY. YAY CAPITALISM!

Image via nulinukas/Shutterstock.

*It’s extremely likely that around 90% of the Native American population was wiped out pre-colonization following limited European contact by the introduction of diseases for which they had no antibodies, since they had no livestock. I’m not talking about the famous smallpox blankets and intentional things like that, here — there are numerous journal entries from the period that involve settlers arriving on North American shores to ghost towns where disease had just wiped all the Native Americans right the hell out. The settlers considered it a sign from God telling them they deserved the land, because of course they did. There’s significant evidence North America was more populous than Europe prior to the introduction of European diseases.

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