Earlier this month, a federal magistrate judge in New York told the Food and Drug Administration to quit dillydallying on its three-decade effort to curb indiscriminate use of antibiotics in farm animals to spur their growth. He set a timetable for the agency to follow in withdrawing two important drugs — penicillin and two forms of tetracycline — from widespread use in animals. The trouble is, that timetable will give the F.D.A. five more years to complete the process.
The feeding of antibiotics in small doses to entire herds or flocks to promote rapid weight gain poses a serious threat to human health. The constant dosing promotes the emergence of germs that are resistant to veterinary drugs and to the very similar drugs used in humans. That raises the risk that when humans are infected by the germs, the medicines they rely on will be less effective.
The F.D.A. had proposed long ago to start proceedings to remove antibiotics from use on farms (except to treat sick animals) unless manufacturers could prove that such usage would not promote drug-resistant microbes. But no hearings were ever scheduled. Then the agency decided that it could make faster progress against a broader range of drugs by gaining the voluntary cooperation of drug makers and animal producers to limit usage.
The agency argued in court that it would be a burden for it to prepare for and hold hearings when it was already pursuing what it deems a more fruitful voluntary approach. But the judge held that it should be able to do both at the same time. If the F.D.A. appeals that decision, we hope the Second Circuit Court of Appeals will uphold it and find some way to shorten the time period for the F.D.A. to reach final conclusions.