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FDA Can Curtail Antibiotic Crisis by Ending Misuse in Livestock Animals, Say Health Advocate Groups in New Lawsuit

WASHINGTON, D.C. – To protect the safety of consumers, meat processing workers and farming communities, a coalition of public health advocacy groups have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) and its Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM), challenging their refusal to phase out unnecessary uses of antibiotics in animal agriculture.

Approximately two-thirds of medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in food-producing animals, and are often administered to healthy animals en masse to compensate for the higher risk of infections typically caused by cramped, unsanitary or stressful conditions. The misuse of these medicines has contributed to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria–a growing public health crisis responsible for 35,000 deaths and over 2.8 million cases of illness each year in the United States.

In 2016, NRDC, Earthjustice, FACT, Public Citizen, and several other public health and consumer groups petitioned FDA to ban the use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention in livestock and poultry in the absence of illness. Five years later, FDA denied the petition despite the agency “generally agree[ing]” that the use of antibiotics “can contribute to the development and proliferation of antimicrobial resistant bacteria.” FDA’s denial failed to address the petition’s core concern that use of medically important antibiotics for so-called disease prevention purposes in livestock and poultry poses a significant threat to human health. The lawsuit filed today explains that FDA failed to adequately consider the evidence and ignored the central problem presented in the 2016 petition.

Plaintiffs in the case include Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments, Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT), NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), and Public Citizen; Earthjustice will serve as co-counsel.

Statements from Plaintiffs in the Case:

“Nurses are on the frontlines caring for people made sicker by antibiotic resistant infections. Antibiotic resistant infections can lead to longer hospital stays, more costly treatment, and more pain and suffering. A crucial part of reducing antibiotic resistance is to only use them when an infection is identified. Health professionals are doing our part to combat antibiotic resistance in healthcare. Yet, the non therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock is threatening the progress being made. The FDA needs to do their job and end the use of antibiotics for disease prevention in livestock. This is critical so that we have antibiotics at our disposal for many years to come.” – Katie Huffling, Executive Director, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments

“Since the 1970s, the FDA has recognized that the overuse of antibiotics in healthy livestock fuels the antibiotic resistance crisis and compromises the effectiveness of life-saving drugs for everyday people. It is shocking how little the FDA has done to safeguard public health from these risks in the last fifty years. The longer FDA waits to take action, the more people this crisis will harm.” – David Wallinga, MD, Senior Health Officer, NRDC

“Antibiotics are crucial treatments for a wide range of bacterial infections—including pneumonia, strep throat, and urinary tract infections. And effective antibiotics are life-saving for immunosuppressed patients, including those who have received organ transplants or chemotherapy for cancer. The FDA must do more to combat increased antibiotic resistance.” – Dr. Michael Carome, Director, Health Research Group, Public Citizen

“The FDA has allowed giant meat companies to habitually overuse antibiotics putting everyone’s health at risk. This is absolutely unnecessary as animals raised under healthy conditions do not need routine antibiotics. FDA needs to stop deferring to the interests of the giant drug and meat industries and fulfill its mission to protect human health.” – Steven Roach, Safe and Healthy Food Program Director, Food Animal Concerns Trust   

“Hasn’t the Covid-19 pandemic taught us anything? Uncontrollable diseases wreak havoc on the world economy and kill millions of people. Wasting precious antibiotics simply to compensate for unsanitary conditions at animal factories risks the faster spread of antibiotic resistant disease that are hard or impossible to cure. It’s time the FDA followed the law and put an end to this unconscionable practice.” – Carrie Apfel, Senior Attorney, Sustainable Food and Farming Program, Earthjustice

Additional Resources:


The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments is the only national nursing organization focused solely on the intersection of health and the environment. The mission of the Alliance is to promote healthy people and healthy environments by educating and leading the nursing profession, advancing research, incorporating evidence-based practice, and influencing policy.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world’s natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.organd follow us on Twitter @NRDC. 

Food Animal Concerns Trust (FACT) believes that all food-producing animals should be raised in a humane and healthy manner, and that everyone should have access to safe and humanely produced food. Since 1982, FACT has been leading the charge to make that vision a reality. We provide critical resources to help farmers adopt humane practices, advocate for food safety, and guide consumers in making healthy food choices. 

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 that champions the public interest in the halls of power. On behalf of members in all 50 states, Public Citizen defends democracy, works to advance public health and consumer safety, and advocates to ensure that government works for the people–not for corporations. Visit us at www.citizen.org and follow us on Twitter @Public_Citizen.

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change.