Between 2001 and 2010, FDA quietly reviewed the safety of 30 penicillin and tetracycline antibiotic feed additives approved for nontherapeutic use.
FDA's scientific reviewers' findings - obtained by NRDC as a result of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) - show that none of these products would likely be approved as new additives for nontherapeutic livestock use if submitted today, under current FDA guidelines.
Eighteen of the 30 reviewed feed additives were deemed to pose a "high risk" of exposing humans to antibiotic-resistant bacteria through the food supply, based on the information available. The remainder lacked adequate data for the reviewers to make any determination and their safety remains unproven.
FDA also concluded in their review that at least 26 of the reviewed feed additives do not satisfy even the safety standards set by FDA in 1973.
Although NRDC says FDA has not taken action since the reviews to revoke approvals for any of these antibiotic feed additives, two were voluntarily removed from the market by the manufacturers. In addition, FDA recently announced plans to phase out antimicrobial products for use in food animals for production purposes such as enhancing their growth.
FDA's plan calls for a three-year transition period to ease the burden on an agricultural industry that has become heavily reliant on drugs to boost the growth of animals - approximately 70% of all sales of medically important antibiotics in the United States are for livestock use.
Scientists have demonstrated that nontherapeutic use of antibiotics to raise livestock promotes drug-resistant bacteria that can migrate from livestock facilities and threaten public health by creating antibiotic resistance. The growing number of antibiotic-resistant drugs has prolonged ailments and made it more challenging for the medical profession to treat human illnesses.
FDA data indicate that the types of antibiotics in the reviewed additives - tetracyclines and penicillins - together make up nearly half of all the antibiotics used in animal agriculture. Other feed additives with these same antibiotics, including generics, that are approved for similar uses would likely pose a similar risk of promoting antibiotic resistance.
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