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However, after constant use some animals develop germs that are immune to antibiotics. These germs, often called superbugs, can then pass to farmworkers and their families. In other cases germs blow into neighboring communities in dust clouds, run off into lakes and rivers during heavy rains, or sometimes contaminate steaks and chops that end up on kitchen tables.
The Natural Resources Defense Council sued the FDA in May 2011 to compel the agency to act on its 35-year-old order. The FDA countered that the 1977 ruling was outdated and that the agency had already issued more recent proposals to curb antibiotics, such as a 2010 recommendation that veterinarians be consulted before antibiotics are given to animals. The FDA is expected to finalize those recommendations, which would not be binding, next week.
But Katz said the more recent actions don't overrule the agency's previous judgment that "the drug products are not shown to be safe," for non-medical use in animals.
"The FDA has not issued a single statement since the issuance of the 1977 `decision' that undermines the original findings that the drugs have not been shown to be safe," states the opinion.
FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey said Friday the agency is "studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps."
Throughout President Obama's first term in office, FDA officials repeatedly said antibiotics in agriculture pose a serious public health threat and said they would act on the issue. In January, the agency took its first step on the issue, ordering farmers to limit the use of cephalosporins, which are given to some cattle, swine, chickens and turkeys. The drugs are not as widely used as penicillin and other common antibiotics.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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