The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says it is studying a federal judge's order that it consider withdrawing two popular antibiotics from use in livestock. In a ruling, U.S. Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz says that the FDA must issue notices to drug manufacturers that the drugs will be withdrawn unless the companies can prove they're safe. Katz didn't issue a full ban -- suggesting the manufacturers should be given a hearing to make their case.

The suit was originally brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which argued that the FDA has allowed livestock producers to use popular antibiotics penicillin and tetracycline in feed for more than 30 years for purposes other than treatment of illnesses.

The NRDC claims "the indiscriminate use of antibiotics in animal feed can lead to the growth and spread of drug-resistant bacteria capable of infecting people." Antibiotic resistant bacteria are fast-moving, can be deadly, and can infect otherwise healthy individuals.

According to FDA, "We are studying the opinion and considering appropriate next steps."

The ruling can be traced back to decisions the FDA made more than 30 years ago. In 1977, the FDA announced plans to withdraw approval of some antibiotics used in livestock feed. The drugs have been used by livestock producers to help promote growth and feed efficiency.

At the time, the FDA found the practice of using antibiotics for non-medical reasons unsafe. Drug manufacturers requested hearings, but the FDA never scheduled meetings and nothing else was done. The approval remained in place.

In subsequent years, new medical evidence suggested that treating livestock with antibiotics increased risks to human health. But according to the judge's ruling, the FDA never changed its position.

In May, two petitions circulated urging the FDA to finish what it started in 1977. When the FDA didn't respond, the NRDC filed suit. In December, the FDA withdrew the original 1977 notices saying they were outdated.

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