Livestock Antibiotic Use Remains Hidden—Until Next Year

Credit: Photo by Bernard Hermant on Unsplash

In public health, “out of sight, out of mind” is not a great long-term strategy. It’s not enough to know where antibiotic-resistant infections occur; to develop appropriate interventions, public health advocates also need to know where and in what quantity antibiotics themselves are being used.

That’s why Maryland’s Keep Antibiotics Effective Act of 2019 (SB471/HB642) established the strongest livestock antibiotic transparency measures in the country. In addition to clarifying the state’s strict limits on routine livestock antibiotic use, the law requires the Maryland Department of Agriculture to collect information and report publicly on the quantities of antibiotics used for livestock production in the state. The first comprehensive report is due in 2021. In the interim, the Department is required to report on publicly available antibiotic use data gathered from public agencies and trade associations.

This year’s report shows why the new transparency measure is so critical. It states:

“In the past calendar year 2019, no data from appropriate national or state agencies, organizations, trade associations or councils was found that provided information on use in Maryland of [medically important antimicrobial drugs] in cattle, swine and poultry.”

In other words, here’s everything the government knows about the antibiotics used to raise animals:

Maryland’s comprehensive 2021 report will likely stand in contrast with California—the only other state in the country with a strict limit on routine antibiotic use in livestock. While California collects information about antibiotic use across the state, the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s first report omitted two key pieces of information that allow for standardized comparisons of antibiotic use: the quantities of antibiotics used and the number of animals raised. Instead, the report focused on the amount of medicated feed sold, which doesn’t tell us much because we don’t know the antibiotic levels in the feed; the agency has said that the next annual report will include the missing data. Maryland’s law requires the Department of Agriculture to report those numbers starting next year, and we’ll continue to urge California to provide the same level of transparency.

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