Activist groups took the offensive on the legal and regulatory fronts this week against the use of antibiotics in food animals, filing a lawsuit and a petition–actions that industry groups said were contrary to science and present an “inaccurate view” of the use of antibiotics in animals.

“The overuse of antibiotics in livestock is helping fuel the rapid proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and humans,” said a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), and other groups, asking the U.S. District Court in New York City to order the Food & Drug Administration to withdraw approval for “subtherapeutic” usage of penicillin and tetracycline.

In addition, CSPI filed a petition asking USDA to declare four subspecies of Salmonella to be adulterants in ground meat and poultry, which would require products to be recalled from the marketplace or withheld from commerce if they were found to be contaminated with those bacteria.  The four subspecies are S. heidelberg, S. newport, S. hadar, and S. typhimurium.  Declaring them adulterants would put them in the same category as E. coli O157:H7 in ground meat.

“We’ve consistently said that policy decisions about the use of antibiotics in animals should be made on the basis of careful scientific risk assessment,” Animal Health Institute spokesperson Ron Phillips said.  “Several risk assessments measuring the risk of various antibiotic compounds used in animal agriculture have been published in peer-reviewed journals, and they uniformly find the risk to public health to be vanishingly small.  In one example, the risk of a human antibiotic treatment failure due to the use of an antibiotic in animals was less than that of dying from a bee sting.”

“Antibiotics used to keep food animals healthy have been approved by FDA as safe and effective,” Phillips said.  “Recent scientific studies have documented the benefits of carefully using antibiotics to keep food animals healthy, because healthy animals produce safer meat products.”

The actions by NRDC and CSPI “present a distorted and inaccurate view of the use of antibiotics in animals,” the National Chicken Council said in a statement.  “Antibiotics are a valuable tool in preserving animal health and in producing wholesome food for people.  Antibiotics are not always used in poultry production, and the vast majority of the antimicrobials used in poultry production are not used in human medicine and therefore do not represent any threat of creating resistance.”