August 9, 2022

First Decline in Antibiotic Sales for Livestock in 2016

According to U.S. PIRG, for the first time, antibiotic sales for livestock declined for the first time in 2016. This is something many advocates have been working on for decades, since misuse of antibiotics can and has created antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotic ResistanceWHO sounded the alarm over this issue in 2014, stating that unless something was done about this issue, the world may enter a new phase in which antibiotics become ineffective for even the smallest infection. At that time, they said, “A post-antibiotic era—in which common infections and minor injuries can kill—far from being an apocalyptic fantasy, is instead a very real possibility for the 21st century.”

Most of the antibiotics sold in the U.S. and around the world are used in food animals. This downtick comes after “numerous commitments by major food companies to eliminate routine antibiotic use from their meat supplies,” according to the U.S. PIRG report.

Matthew Wellington, U.S. PIRG Antibiotics Program Director said in a statement, “Actions speak louder than words, and the most action we’ve seen on antibiotics has come from food companies. It’s no coincidence that now we’re seeing a slight downturn in sales, and we’re cheering this good news. But we’ll need much steeper reductions in the coming years if we’re going to keep antibiotics working to heal sick people.”

The report breaks down sales of what are called “medically important” antibiotics by species. Those are antibiotics that are used to fight infections in humans. Some are “last resort” antibiotics, which means they are used when bacteria develop resistance to most antibiotics. The researchers found that chickens account for just 6% of medically important antibiotic sales, compared to swine at 37% and cattle at 43%.

Most of the food industry commitments to reduce antibiotic use have been for chicken. McDonald’s, KFC, and Chick-fil-A have decided to tell their producers they will not buy from producers who routinely use antibiotics on chicken. And chicken producers such as Tyson Foods and Perdue are making reductions in antibiotic usage.

Wellington added, “Beef and pork have been tougher nuts to crack, so to speak, and the sales numbers reinforce this problem. Subway, Panera Bread, Niman Ranch and Applegate are moving away from all meat raised with routine antibiotic use, but we need more. If more major restaurants, such as McDonald’s, commit to only purchase beef and pork raised without misusing antibiotics, we can make a dent in the amount of antibiotics sold for livestock.”

In 2013, the CDC estimated that at least 2,000,000 Americans are sickened with antibiotic resistant infections every year and 23,000 die. Those numbers are expected to rise without more action. These drug-resistant infections could kill more people around the world in 2050 than cancer kills today if antibiotic sales are not decreased.

The report states that individual states will have to pass laws that restrict the routine use of antibiotics on animals. Wellington said, “More states are going to follow the lead of California and Maryland. Given what’s at stake, it’s the clearest path forward, and as more states and food companies take action, we should see sales of antibiotics decrease. And eventually the FDA, which has not gone as far as California and Maryland, or Panera Bread and Subway, will prohibit the routine use of our life-saving medicines in the meat industry.”


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