With little fanfare, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has denied two long-pending petitions from consumer and other groups to limit the use of several classes of antibiotics in farm animals.

The petitions were filed in 1999 and 2005 by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, along with several environmental and medical organizations. The request was to cancel approval of the “herdwide and flockwide” uses of several classes of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in chickens, swine and beef cattle, out of concern that such use will cause resistance and reduce effectiveness of the drugs in humans.

FDA explained in separate letters to the petitioners that the legal process necessary for drug approval is expensive and slow, and that the voluntary strategy the agency unveiled in 2010 should lead to improved use of the antibiotics in food animals.

Tom Burkgren, DVM, executive director of the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, agrees with FDA’s decision and approach to the use of antibiotics.

“I think FDA and the Center for Veterinary Medicine are taking a good, active role in trying to address these issues in a scientific manner and balance human health risks yet to be proven with that of putting animal health at risk,” he says.

“I think the common theme among the anti-agricultural people has always been one of prohibition rather than one of looking at the issues and coming up with a good solution. Prohibition is certainly an easy route to take, but that’s not necessarily the best route,” Burkgren explains.

He notes these organizations really fail to realize the amount of work that FDA is putting into this process and what the industry has done as well to ensure that antibiotics are going to be available for the animals.