Antibiotic sales for livestock use: Still huge. FDA still doing . . . not much.

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released data that comes as a surprise to no one who knows how little meaningful action the agency has taken to combat the misuse of antibiotics in the livestock industry, which scientists agree is contributing to a rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria and putting the effectiveness of essential antibiotics at risk.  Overall antibiotic sales for use in livestock production increased yet again, as was the case last year. Sales of medically important antibiotics for use in livestock remained at over 70% of the total.

In other words, sales of antibiotics for use in raising cattle, swine, poultry and other food animals are almost 4 times the amount sold for human use and have gone up at a pretty steady rate over the last decade. See this great graphic from our colleagues at Pew that illustrates just how much is being used and the trends in use.

Data released the same day also shows that the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, or “superbugs,” in meat continues to be high. For more on both these data releases, see this blog by my colleague Sasha Lyutse.

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, who has introduced legislation to stop the inappropriate use of antibiotics in animal agriculture, has called for action, stating that “We are standing on the brink of a public health catastrophe.” Just recently, the Chief Medical Officer of the United Kingdom warned that the decline of the effectiveness of antibiotics presages an “apocalyptic scenario” and that the issue is so serious that antibiotic resistance should be added to the UK national risk register of civil emergencies. This is the latest addition to the long chorus of voices that have weighed in on this issue. For a sample, check out this compilation of quotes by prominent medical and scientific groups sounding the alarm.

You would think all this would be spurring FDA to meaningful action. But, as I have pointed out before, FDA’s solution has been to offer loophole-laden recommendations to the drug and meat industries and invite livestock producers to voluntarily reduce their use of antibiotics. FDA should be moving forward with mandatory action to stop the misuse of antibiotics in livestock animals that are not sick.

NRDC and our partners won two decisions in federal court last year that directed FDA to take action on the issue. FDA has appealed those decisions, and just today, my colleague Jen Sorenson argued the appeal before the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals. We look forward to the Court’s decision.

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