October 21, 2016

Antibiotic Use in Agriculture Continues to Increase

A new report from the FDA finds that antibiotic use in agriculture is continuing to increase, despite new guidelines from the government. Sales of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals increased by 3% between 2013 and 2014. Sales one of drug that is critically important to human health, cephalosporins, increased by 12% from 2013 to 2014 despite the government restricting their use in 2012.

cows-grazing-arsThe report states that domestic sales and distribution of antimicrobials approved for use in food-producing animals increased by 22% from 2009 through 2014. In 2014, medically important antimicrobials accounted for 62% of all domestic sales of all antimicrobials. Tetracycline sales are the largest volume of antibiotics used in food animals.

Food & Water Watch says that people should be worried about this increase. We don’t know exactly how antibiotics are actually used on factory farms. They could be used to promote growth, prevent disease at sub therapeutic levels in health animals, or to treat disease in animals that are sick. The FDA is not providing this information to the public, and states in the report “because the majority of antimicrobial drugs used in animal feed are approved for multiple indications, simply knowing the route of administration for a drug is, for example, by oral means through animal feed cannot, by itself, be used to determine the indication for which the drug was used.”

Medically important antibiotics will not be allowed to promote growth by 2017, but these drugs can still be given to health animals to prevent disease. This practice promotes antibiotic resistance, since the drugs are given at low doses. This allows the bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs as they evolve.

Food Poisoning Bulletin has been following this story for the last four years. In June 2015, the CDC reported that antibiotic resistance is increasing for some pathogens. Last year, U.S. senators asked the FDA to collect more data on antibiotic use on factory farms.

Pew Charitable Trusts is critical of the FDA’s guidance on this topic. They state, “these policy documents have gaps that need to be addressed to slow the growing public health crisis of antibiotic resistance. It is important to note that the guidance is voluntary, meaning companies are not required to follow it.” Guidance #213 asks drug companies to notify FDA of their voluntary decisions to remove growth promotion from product labels, they are not required to do so. There is no restriction on disease prevention, and no stated plan for evaluating the program success. That organization says that FDA should establish targets and timetables for reducing antibiotic resistance in food animals and should be clear about how this progress will be reported.

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