A coalition of consumer groups filed a federal lawsuit May 20 against the Food and Drug Administration, saying that the use of human antibiotics in farm feed creates dangerous “superbugs,” Agence France-Presse reports.

The suit alleges that the FDA has known since 1977 that the practice of feeding healthy animals penicillin and tetracyclines could lead to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in people.

“However, despite this conclusion and laws requiring that the agency act on its findings, FDA failed to take any action to protect human health,” the groups said in a statement.

The lawsuit seeks to “compel FDA to take action on the agency's own safety findings, withdrawing approval for most non-therapeutic uses of penicillin and tetracyclines in animal feed.”

The organizations suing the FDA include the Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Public Citizen and Union of Concerned Scientists.

Approximately 70 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are given to healthy farm animals at low doses to promote faster growth and compensate for unsanitary living conditions, according to the coalition's statement. The antibiotics are added to feed or mixed into water for pigs, cows, chicken and turkeys. Because they are administered at such low levels, they leave surviving bacteria stronger and more able to resist them.

“Accumulating evidence shows that antibiotics are becoming less effective, while our grocery store meat is increasingly laden with drug-resistant bacteria,” Peter Lehner, NRDC executive director, said in the statement.

Last year, the FDA urged farmers to give fewer antibiotics to livestock and poultry to reduce the risk of superbugs, multi-drug-resistant bacteria that can be transferred to humans and can cause infections that are difficult or impossible to treat, are more likely to be fatal, and can require longer and more expensive hospital stays. But FDA officials also stressed the drugs could play an important role on farms when used properly.

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