(CN) – Federal prosecutors say a Maryland dairy farmer overdosed his cattle with antibiotics for more than a decade, creating “a significant health risk” for people who eat the drug-laden beef. The civil complaint in Baltimore Federal Court indicates that the Obama administration is addressing an issue that has troubled physicians and scientists for years.
Dosing animals with antibiotics when they are not sick can create antibiotic-resistant strains of disease. People who eat products with residual levels of antibiotics may suffer the same effects. Such cases were rarely, if ever, prosecuted under previous administrations.
Prosecutors say Francis Roderick’s Old Carolina Farm misused restricted antibiotics and sold meat tainted with drug residue far beyond acceptable levels. Roderick dosed his animals with penicillin, gentamicin, flunixin and other antibiotics, and sold meat “containing out-of-tolerance antibiotic levels,” according to the complaint. It adds that these actions “pose a significant health risk.”
“Consumers of edible animal tissues that are sensitive to antibiotics may experience severe allergic reactions as a result of ingesting food containing out-of-tolerance antibiotic levels,” according to the FDA.
Prosecutors say Roderick has failed eight inspections since 1996. He has consistently refused to keep records of his antibiotic treatments, has an “inadequate inventory system” and at least eight of his animals have tested positive for illegal levels of antibiotics.
And he was brazen about it. “During the May 2009 inspection, defendant Roderick informed the FDA investigator that he did not intend to begin keeping treatment or drug inventory records,” according to the complaint.
Three times he was cited for shipping animals with residue of gentamicin in their kidneys, according the FDA.
There is no “acceptable tolerance level” for gentamicin.
In 2007 he shipped a cow with .179 ppm of sulfamethazine, for which there is also no acceptable level, in its muscle, the FDA says.
Many commercial animal lots – far too many, scientists say – dose their animals with antibiotics in the belief that it will stimulate growth, or prevent disease from stinting the animals’ growth. But the FDA knows, and has long warned, that “meat containing above tolerance antibiotic levels could lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria in humans who eat and handle mean containing antibiotic residues.”
The agency wants Roderick permanently enjoined from selling beef tainted with antibiotics, plus the costs of the investigation.