The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has decided not to withdraw penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed, backing off the agency’s initial intention to do so. The news was not announced, but was published in the Federal Register just before the holidays.

In 1977, FDA first announced its intention to withdraw the animal drug approvals — penicillin outright and the subtherapeutic use of tetracycline — citing microbial food safety concerns, but now the agency is planning to “focus its efforts for now on the potential for voluntary reform and the promotion of the judicious use of antimicrobials in the interest of public health,” according to the notice.

The Keep Antibiotics Working coalition criticized the move. “[The decision] is just the latest evidence that the Obama Administration fails to take seriously the risk of resistant infections that occur due to the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture,” according to Steven Roach, the Public Health Program Director at Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), a member of the coalition.

“Since the FDA initially proposed the withdrawals in 1977, the data connecting antibiotic resistance with overuse in animals has only gotten stronger,” added Roach. “Yet the FDA refuses to fulfill its mandate to protect the public health and withdraw drugs that have been shown to be unsafe. As long as the Administration fails to act and continues to fall back on an ineffective voluntary approach, Keep Antibiotics Working will press the FDA to protect the public health through more meaningful measures.”

FDA said in the notice that despite this action, the agency “remains concerned about the issue of antimicrobial resistance.”

“Today’s action should not be interpreted as a sign that FDA no longer has safety concerns or that FDA will not consider re-proposing withdrawal proceedings in the future, if necessary,” said the notice. “FDA has not ruled out the prospect of future regulatory action, either with respect to the antimicrobial new animal drugs covered by the 1977 NOOHs or any others.”

The agency says it will focus on voluntary reforms and if that strategy “does not yield satisfactory results” the possibility of pursuing withdrawals is still on the table.

Maryn McKenna, public health journalist and author of Superbug, broke the story, which is likely to get lost in the holiday bustle. McKenna noted the potential political significance of the move:

“There is a lot of background to this, but here is the takeaway: For 34 years, the FDA has been contending that administering small doses of antibiotics to healthy animals is an inappropriate use of increasingly scarce drugs — a position in which it is supported by organizations as mainstream as the American Medical Association,” wrote McKenna. “With this withdrawal, it backs away from the actions it took to support that assertion — which may indicate there will be no further government action on the issue until after the 2012 election.”

  • Steve

    This is what industry control of our watchdog agencies looks like…
    FSMA should be a dilly!

  • Sir/Madam,
    As long as legal bribery in the form of campain contributions and earmarks are allowed to corrupt our political system, money will write our laws and regulations. Political party leaders are in control of our Senate and House of Representatives. They control what is voted on and when. They bribe our Congressmen and women with earmarks (taxpayer’s money)to get votes for or against what special interest want.
    This corruption is the reason our country is bankrupt as you read this. We may have already past the point of no return to a complete castastrophy and maybe even marshall law and civil revolution. It is possible we will have major civil disobedience in the near future and the end of America as we know it.
    This the way it has been all down thru history. A government gets so greedy it collapses onto itself. Theres is civil war, death and destruction and then when destruction is complete, a new government takes over and the process starts all over again. Sometimes a stronger country, like China, for instance, takes advantage of a weak country invades, control and murders most of the people.
    Sometimes organizations like this one can’t afford to take no for an answer. Take the fight to the voters and let them know the corrupt government leaders are selling out their health to special interests. It is worth a try. The fight is going to have to start somewhere, why not here. This is just one example of our corrupt government.
    Gary Cochran

  • Johnny Coleman

    Big money always gets their way.
    America is dead.
    Greed killed it.

  • Mexicale Rose

    Wait just a minute, girls. Exemption and voluntary compliance. That’s the lifeblood of the alternative farming movement, is it not? Calm your outrage and crank up the trust — it’s all good for everyone large and small, ladies, unless you’re wrong about that.

  • Tina C.

    @Mexicale: “Trust, but verify.”
    Since heads of special interests now lead the FDA, it should come as no surprise that this dying and largely toothless organization has once again failed to address the needs of the many (the average American citizen) over the wants of a few (the powerful corporations with billions of dollars at their disposal).
    Only the courage of the American people will prevail over such overwhelming odds.