Antibiotic Sales for U.S. Meat Industry Increased Nearly 10% Last Year, Driven By Pigs and Cows

Overuse in Livestock is Weakening Effectiveness of Drugs for People

WASHINGTON – Livestock sales of antibiotics important to humans increased 9% in 2018 from the previous year, according to annual figures released today by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). More of the drugs were sold for use in cows and pigs alone than for people.

The rise in overall livestock sales was driven by a more than 17% increase in pig antibiotics sales, and an 8% increase in cattle antibiotics sales. In contrast, there was a more than 17% decline in antibiotics sold for chicken, an industry that has nearly eliminated routine use of these drugs under pressure from consumers, major buyers and advocates like the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

To combat the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections in people, we must stop antibiotics overuse in meat production.

A statement follows from Dr. David Wallinga, MD, physician and Senior Health Officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

“The antibiotics doctors and patients have relied on for decades are increasingly failing when we really need them. Yet, more of our miracle drugs are still going to cows and pigs than people. The beef and pork industries must stop squandering these precious medicines, which jeopardizes their effectiveness, before it’s too late.”


According to FDA’s report, nearly two-thirds (65.5%) of antibiotics important to human medicine were sold for use in livestock in the U.S. last year. And 92% of the antibiotics used in livestock were routinely distributed en masse in feed or water—most often to animals that are not sick to help them survive crowded and unsanitary conditions on industrial farms.

This practice contributes to the rise and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and increases the risk of drug-resistant infections in humans. Leading medical experts—from the World Health Organization to the American Academy of Pediatrics—warn that we must stop overuse of antibiotics in human medicine and animal agriculture, or else the life-saving drugs we rely on to treat common infections and enable medical procedures will increasingly stop working.

A recent estimate from a Washington University study put the number of deaths of people with antibiotic resistant infections at more than 160,000 per year, which would make it the fourth leading cause of death in the country. 


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) 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, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.​


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