Lawsuit Over Oft-Banned Animal Drug Dropped

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) – A coalition of environmental, food safety and animal rights groups dropped their legal challenge over the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of an animal-growth drug that is banned in dozens of nations.

Lead plaintiff Center for Food Safety sued the FDA in one of two consolidated lawsuits in 2014, claiming the agency improperly approved 18 new animal drugs that contain the additive ractopamine hydrochloride without fully analyzing the environmental impact.

Primarily used to reduce fat content in beef and pork, ractopamine can increase the risk of rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure in humans. It has also been linked to health problems and deaths in animals and humans, according to the plaintiffs.

Cristina Stella, an attorney for co-plaintiff Animal Legal Defense Fund, said in an email that the voluntary dismissal of this case this week does not reflect the merits of claims about the FDA’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when approving animal drugs.

“That we were not able to resolve this case on the merits is a disappointing result after years of litigation, and sends the wrong signal to industry about its obligations to animals and the environment,” Stella said. “Plaintiffs will continue to work to abate the harmful effects of these animal drugs in industrial agriculture.”

Ractopamine, designed to boost lean muscle growth in animals, has been banned or restricted in dozens of countries, including the European Union, Russia and China.

The Center for Food Safety said the FDA approved the drug for use in feed consumed by β€œan estimated one billion pigs, turkeys and cows from 2008 to 2014.”

Elanco Animal Health, which manufactures ractopamine, intervened in the case in 2015 and moved for dismissal, arguing the plaintiffs were required to file a citizen petition with the FDA challenging the drug approvals before they could sue in court.

In November 2015, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed the case, finding that filing an administrative petition was a prerequisite for suing in federal court.

The nonprofits declined Gonzalez Roger’s invitation to stay the case pending resolution of an administrative petition and instead took their legal challenge to the Ninth Circuit.

In August 2017, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case back to district court, finding Gonzalez Rogers properly held that “the FDA should be afforded an opportunity to apply its expertise to assess [plaintiffs’] claims in the first instance ‘prior to possible judicial intervention.'”

On Jan. 5, the plaintiffs informed the court in a joint statement that they had “no plans to file the citizen petition as contemplated by this court’s 2015 opinion” and that they were considering dismissing the case with prejudice.

On Thursday, both sides filed a joint stipulation to voluntarily dismiss the lawsuit. Gonzalez Rogers approved the request on Friday and dismissed the case with prejudice.

A Center for Food Safety representative declined to comment.

The FDA and U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to emails seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Other named plaintiffs in the two consolidated lawsuits included the Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club, Humane Society of the United States, and United Farm Workers of America.

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