PEER Sues FDA for Documents on Livestock Antibiotics

July 11, 2012

Some 70,000 Americans die each year from infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and one major cause of growing resistance is the widespread use of antibiotics as an additive to the feed of healthy cattle. The Food and Drug Administration recently announced that it was going to start tightening restrictions on antibiotics in livestock.

Show us the documents — that was in effect the reaction of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). And PEER has now gone to court over its Freedom-of-Information Act request for FDA documents detailing some of its policies and actions on livestock antibiotics.

PEER's FOIA request focuses on FDA's use of one specific environmental law: the National Environmental Policy Act, passed in 1970. NEPA is the law that requires federal agencies to do an environmental impact statement before any major action affecting the environment (in this case, allowing use of antibiotics in livestock feed). Agencies can waive NEPA requirements by issuing a "categorical exclusion" for certain activities — and FDA has issued categorical exclusions for livestock antibiotics.

Under FOIA, PEER requested FDA documents justifying its use of categorical exclusions to avoid assessing the environmental impact of not regulating livestock antibiotics. After FDA failed to provide any, PEER on June 29, 2012, filed a lawsuit in federal district court. Stay tuned.