The antibiotics routinely given to livestock to prevent disease are believed to be harmful to humans. We’re becoming resistant to many types of antibiotics, and scientists believe it’s because of the overuse of them in the animals we eat. Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in this country are given to animals, even if they aren't sick.

The Food and Drug Administration has been slowly addressing this issue. In 2012, it said that vets have to prescribe the antibiotics for use in livestock. While that’s good in theory, there will always be vets who will prescribe uneccessary drugs for livestock just like there will always be doctors who will prescribe unnecessary drugs for humans. The government agency has also called for the voluntary phasing out of antibiotics in healthy animals, but, it has not done anything that would make the use of them in healthy livestock illegal.

Several consumer advocacy groups have called on the FDA to hold hearings to review the scientific evidence that shows the hazards of the overuse of antibiotics – something the FDA has never done despite knowing since 1977 that it could lead to serious health problems. Since then, evidence has mounted, and the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is now linked to "superbugs" - strains of bacteria that have become resistent to antibiotics.

Yesterday, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the government can’t make the FDA hold hearings if the FDA doesn’t want to have them. Aljazeera America reports that in a 2-1 ruling, the courts said the FDA can do what it wants.

Reading the majority opinion is enough to make your head spin if you’re not a constitutional scholar. What I took from it is that the FDA isn't required to remove a drug until the agency has an internal hearing about it. The FDA doesn’t have to have an internal hearing about the drug until it has certain pieces of evidence, but it's under no obligation to collect those pieces of evidence, even if it has suspicions that something is unsafe. And, the courts can’t make them go through the steps that would lead to a hearing.

AlJazeera pulled these words from the majority opinion out of the 65-page document.

It is not for us to determine whether [the FDA] has been prudent or imprudent, wise or foolish, effective or ineffective in its approach to this problem. Whether the agency’s long inaction in the face of dangers highlighted in the [1977 FDA report] represented politically-inspired foot-dragging or wise caution in developing a cost-effective approach, it was for the agency, and not the courts, to determine how best to proceed.
So, even if the FDA’s limited action on the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is motivated by politics, and not what’s best for the public interest, no one can do anything about it.

I can’t help but think there are many people at the FDA singing over and over in their heads today, “Nanny, nanny, poo, poo, you can’t make me.”

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Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

FDA can ignore taking action on overuse of antibiotics in livestock if it wants, says court
Even if the FDA knows something is harmful, it seems no one can make them do anything about it.