WASHINGTON – Each year, infections from antibiotic-resistant bacteria are responsible for more than 1.3 million deaths globally, with at least 35,000 fatalities in the United States alone. Efforts in the U.S. to curtail antibiotic overuse–the major driver of spreading resistance–have focused on human applications despite more medically important antibiotics being sold for use in livestock animals.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) published its latest research comparing U.S. and European efforts to track and respond to unnecessary antibiotic use in livestock animals. The report, U.S. Livestock Industries Persist in High-Intensity Antibiotic Use, found that:
● In 2020, the U.S. livestock sector as a whole used antibiotics of medical importance at nearly twice the intensity of Europe’s livestock sector (170.8 milligrams per kilogram of animal versus 91.6 milligrams per kilogram of animal).
● From 2011 to 2020, Europe’s top livestock-producing countries cut their intensity of antibiotic use by more than 50%. While U.S. livestock intensity dropped overall by 30% during the same time period, the last three years (between 2017 and 2020) showed almost a 6% increase in intensity.
● Since 2010, sales of medically important antibiotics sold for livestock use have continued to far exceed the amount sold for treating human infections. In 2020 alone, nearly double the amount of antibiotics were sold for livestock use (6 million kilograms) as for use in human medicine (3.3 million kilograms).
Following the demonstrated success in Europe and guidelines from the World Health Organization, the report offers three policy recommendations for Congress or the FDA to adopt as quickly as possible:
● Set a national goal to reduce livestock antibiotic sales 50% by 2025.
● Implement more robust monitoring of antibiotic stewardship by tracking on-farm antibiotic use and following the same metrics as Europe.
● Ban the routine use of antibiotics for disease prevention purposes on healthy animals–a recurring practice caused by poor living conditions within industrial farms.
The following is a statement from the author of the report, Dr. David Wallinga, Senior Health Officer, NRDC:
“To measure antibiotic stewardship in animal agriculture, European officials annually track antibiotic sales by animal drug companies and on-farm use by livestock producers. For Europe’s leading livestock-producing countries, these efforts have been essential in halving antibiotic use in less than a decade.
“FDA has made limited progress to reduce antibiotic overuse in livestock since 2011, and no progress at all since 2017. The agency must stop dragging its heels and implement immediate, meaningful actions to curb antibiotic overuse in livestock. Failing to do so would increase the number of antibiotic-resistant infections and lost lives.”
● European Action Halves Livestock Antibiotic Use (December ‘22)
● National Goal Urged to Curb Livestock Antibiotic Use by 50% (September ‘22)
● Long Overused, High-Level Livestock Antibiotic Sales Persist (December ‘21)
● U.S. Livestock Antibiotic Use Is Rising, Medical Use Falls (November ‘21)
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.