The US District Court for the Southern District of New York [official website] issued an order [text, PDF] to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) [official website] on Thursday requiring the agency to initiate withdrawal proceedings that could lead to the removal of broad spectrum antibiotics from agricultural livestock feed. In 1977 the FDA released a notice that it would hold hearings to potentially ban the use of penicillin and tetracycline, but actually held none over the past 35 years. The federal court order compels the FDA to reissue the notice of proceedings and accept hearing requests from any drug sponsor that raises a genuine issue of fact. However, if the companies are unable to demonstrate that the antibiotics are safe, the FDA must issue an order prohibiting the drug's inclusion in agricultural livestock feed. The FDA had argued that its current regulatory strategies were sufficient and that the proceedings were no longer needed.
Antibiotics are typically used in bulk in livestock feed to promote healthy and robust animals. The primary concern of this practice is that the antibiotics were passed to humans, where there has been evidence presented by the FDA of increased disease resistance to the antibiotics. The FDA has previously banned [agency backgrounder] the use of other antibiotics, cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones, from agricultural livestock feed.