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Court Rules Rampant Misuse of Antibiotics on Factory Farms Can Continue

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Despite U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scientific findings that the misuse of antibiotics in farm animals threatens human health from “superbugs,” business will continue as usual.

Yesterday, in a 2-1 decision, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FDA does not need to consider banning the routine feeding of antibiotics to healthy animals despite the agency’s findings that this misuse of antibiotics fundamentally threatens the effectiveness of medicines in both humans and animals.

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“This decision allows dangerous practices known to threaten human health to continue,” said Avinash Kar, attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Adding antibiotics to farm animals’ feed, day after day, is not what the doctor ordered and should not be allowed.”

The court’s ruling overturned two 2012 district court rulings in cases brought by NRDC, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists. The earlier rulings directed the FDA to halt the regular use of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed for healthy animals until drug manufacturers could prove the safety of this practice.

Dissenting Judge Robert Katzmann said, “Today’s decision allows the FDA to openly declare that a particular animal drug is unsafe, but then refuse to withdraw approval of that drug. It also gives the agency discretion to effectively ignore a public petition asking it to withdraw approval from an unsafe drug. I do not believe the statutory scheme can be read to permit those results.”

The practice of feeding low doses of antibiotics to healthy livestock on factory farms is contributing to an increase in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or superbugs, which is a growing public health concern.

The FDA released voluntary guidelines last December to address this non-therapeutic use of medication. A subsequent Food & Water Watch analysis revealed that 89 percent of antibiotic drugs that the guidelines advises against using to speed growth can still be given to healthy animals for other reasons—hence, the voluntary guidelines prove worthless.

“The misuse of antibiotics in food animal production contributes to the epidemic of antibiotic resistance in our hospitals and communities,” said Robert S. Lawrence, MD, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and a professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Today’s decision is deeply disappointing because it allows voluntary guidelines to take the place of decisive action in confronting one of the most important public health problems of our time.”

While the appeals court decision is disappointing to those working to keep antibiotics effective, their efforts continue. New York City Council Member Ben Kallos yesterday introduced Resolution 353 calling for a New York State and national ban on non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in livestock.

“American health is directly affected by the conditions on factory farms. Our government must enact basic rules to prevent disease and better some of the most dire practices of modern factory farms,” said Council Member Kallos.

The resolution calls upon the U.S. government to pass two bills, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (H.R. 1150) and the Preventing Antibiotic Resistance Act (S. 1256). These bills would reinstate what the district courts had ruled in favor of—drug manufacturers would have to prove non-therapeutic antibiotic use will not lead to antibiotic resistance in humans.

"Simply put, the rampant misuse of antibiotics on factory farms is putting the health of every American at risk. Since Congress has yet to protect our health with common-sense farm antibiotics regulations, cities and towns across the country are demanding action," said Eric Weltman, senior organizer with Food & Water Watch. "But no voice speaks louder than that of New York City, so when this resolution is passed, our leaders in Washington will surely take notice."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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