The easiest way to deal with a problem, as any little kid can tell you, is to ignore it. Wish it away. Mature? No. Effective? Temporarily.

The Food and Drug Association has a problem. It knows it has to set rules for the use of antibiotics in meat production, but it doesn’t wanna. Like a petulant teen, kicking at stones and moaning under its breath, the FDA is dragging its feet.

An antibiotic junkie.

But a federal court in New York put its foot down yesterday, insisting once and for all that the FDA had to do its chores. (“Fine. I didn’t want to be a federal agency anyway. See if I care.”) The FDA now has roughly five years to get the job done, and it can’t delay just because an appeal is pending.

There’s plenty of evidence that rampant antibiotic use in animals causes health problems. Just last month, we reported on a new strain of drug-resistant bladder infections linked to use of antibiotics in chicken. But changing practices means a big additional cost for producers, which of course they’d rather not pay. So the FDA has tried to avoid the issue, even — according to the Natural Resources Defense Council — last winter withdrawing its original 1977 findings on antibiotics and suggesting that meat producers police themselves. To continue the previous analogy, this is the equivalent of pushing all the clothes under the bed and asking them to fold themselves. From the NRDC blog:

In imposing a schedule for FDA action today, the court pointed to FDA’s “unreasonable” 35-year delay in “perform[ing] its statutorily-prescribed duty to initiate, let alone complete, withdrawal proceedings” for penicillin and tetracyclines. In other words, it’s been long enough already.

With a deep sigh and a curse, the FDA shuffles off to do its job. It’s never easy, but sometimes you need to be stern to make sure that kids learn a lesson.