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Humane Groups & United Farm Workers Challenge FDA Approval of Controversial Livestock Drugs

The Food and Drug Administration approval of several ractopamine-based animal drugs is being challenged by animal advocates and farm workers. The groups are suing FDA for failing to take into account the drugs’ cumulative effects on animal behavior, worker safety, wildlife, or the nation’s waterways.

The suit focuses on ractopamine, a controversial drug fed to farm animals to promote rapid weight gain, but which has been banned in dozens of countries including China. The drug also causes death, lameness, stiffness, trembling and shortness of breath in farm animals.

The groups are suing because FDA has allowed millions of pigs, turkeys, and cows to be fed ractopamine-based animal drugs without considering the cumulative impacts of the agency’s actions. The drugs include new combinations of ractopamine with controversial antibiotics and steroids. These drugs remain active in animal waste, and when sprayed on fields, or spilled from manure lagoons, they can wreak havoc on habitat, wildlife and endangered species.

"The FDA’s actions have far-reaching impacts on millions of animals, millions of acres of habitat, and thousands of farm workers throughout the United States,” said Jonathan Lovvorn, Senior Vice President & Chief Counsel for Animal Protection Litigation at The HSUS. “America’s animal factories are pumping out uncounted tons of ractopamine-laced animal waste into the environment each year, and the FDA has no idea what the long-term environmental effects might be.” 

Ractopamine can make animals severely stressed and difficult to handle, increasing the likelihood of injuring or killing farm workers. Workers’ exposure to antibiotics like Tylosin also endangers them and their families because exposure to the antibiotics can leave them more vulnerable to dangerous antibiotic-resistant pathogens.

“The wide-spread use of these drugs adds another layer of risk for farm workers, who are already doing some of the most dangerous jobs in America on factory farms, and puts farm worker communities at increased risk of illness and disease” said Erik Nicholson, national vice-president for United Farm Workers of America. 

“Consumers are increasingly demanding humane treatment of farmed animals and the U.S. should be at the forefront of animal protection rather than lagging behind the international curve,” says Stephen Wells, executive director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

The lawsuit, filed in federal district court in San Francisco by The Humane Society of the United States, The United Farm Workers, and The Animal Legal Defense Fund, asks the Court to set-aside FDA’s approvals of the drugs at issue while the agency performs the environmental review required under federal law.

Facts

  • Ractopamine is fed to between 60 to 80 percent of all U.S. pigs, cattle and turkeys.
  • Tylosin is an antibiotic given to livestock to promote growth and FDA considers it “critically important” to human medicine. Tylosin-resistant bacteria has been found in the soil and air downwind of factory farms.  
  • Monensin is a livestock antibiotic administered to promote growth. Even in low doses it has direct toxic effects on soil animals and presents a potential ecological risk.
  • Melengestrol is a synthetic steroid hormone used in dairy and beef cattle. The European Union prohibits the use of melengestrol because of the potential risks to human health from hormone residues in bovine meat.
  • The FDA has never prepared an Environmental Impact Statement or an Environmental Assessment of the cumulative and combined effects of its approvals of Ractopamine and Ractopamine-based combination drugs on the vast majority of the pigs, cattle, and turkeys raised for food in the United States, nor even presented its decisions to the public for review or comment by outside experts.

Media Contact: Anna West: 240-751-2669; awest@humanesociety.org

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