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Judge: FDA must follow up on farm antibiotics ban

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The FDA has to follow through on its pledge to limit antibiotics use in livestock. That's the conclusion of a federal judge, who has now ordered the agency to do what it said it would do way back in 1977: start the process of withdrawing approval for two types of antibiotics commonly used on farms.

As The New York Times reports, the FDA will now have to change its guidelines for penicillin and tetracycline use in chickens, pigs and cattle--at least when it comes to growth promotion. The judge's order doesn't apply to a far more widespread tactic: Farmers now say they put the drugs in feed and water to prevent disease, not stimulate growth.

So, the end result may not change actual practice much, unless the FDA decides to restrict disease-prevention uses, too. That's something the agency has so far resisted, despite calls from consumer and public health groups concerned that antibiotics in animals are fostering antibiotic-resistant germs. "The rise of superbugs that we see now was predicted by FDA in the '70s," Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Jen Sorenson told the NYT.

The agency has, however, issued some new rules for cephalosporins, high-powered antibiotics used to treat strep, pneumonia, and other infections. And as Judge Theodore Katz wrote in the new ruling, "there is no evidence the FDA has changed its position" that widespread use of antibiotics in livestock isn't safe. How the agency acts on that belief--and Katz's order--remains to be seen.

- read the NYT coverage
- get more from The Wall Street Journal

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