Yesterday, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled 2-1 that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not have to consider banning the use of antibiotics in animal feed, even to animals that are healthy.

The decision reversed two rulings in cases brought by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC)  in 2012 which said:

“FDA must take stronger action than it has so far—by stopping the non-therapeutic use of penicillin and tetracyclines in livestock unless drug manufacturers prove the safety of such use and by confronting the science on the safety of non-therapeutic use of other medically important antibiotics in animal feed and water in response to citizen petitions.”

In 1977, the FDA said that using antibiotics manufactured for humans in animal feed could result in antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria, which could cause huge health problems for people. Since then, the FDA has done little to curb the use of these drugs, other than simply asking pharmaceutical companies to stop selling antibiotics to livestock farms.

Given that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in America are used on cattle, pigs, chickens, and other livestock, it appears that Big Pharma told the FDA, “no thanks.”

As the lone dissenter in yesterday’s verdict, Judge Robert Katzman 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 … The FDA is never statutorily required to initiate or continue withdrawal proceedings for a drug—no matter how terrifyingly unsafe that drug may be. Instead, the FDA has complete discretion to decide when (and whether) to begin the process of withdrawing approval for drugs that it has determined are not shown to be safe.”

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

Mae Wu, also with the NRDC, added that the ruling “effectively gives FDA free rein to ignore science when its not convenient. Nevertheless, we will continue to evaluate all legal policy avenues to end the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in farm animals.”

According to a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), at least two million people develop serious infections with bacteria that are antibiotic resistant each year, with at least 23,000 people dying from those infections. The report also says that the total annual cost, which the CDC calls “avoidable,” to the US economy from these infections can range as high as $20 billion in direct healthcare costs, with additional costs due to lost productivity costing as much as $35 billion annually.

The CDC also says that “the use of antibiotics for promoting growth (in livestock) is not necessary, and the practice should be phased out.”

As long as Big Pharma and Big Ag can keep producing huge livestock, and thereby produce huge profits, the practice will continue. They will keep endangering the lives of basically the entire human population simply to increase their bottom line.