Livestock Sales of Antibiotics Important to Human Medicine Continue to Rise; Urgent Action is Needed to Address this Public Health Threat
WASHINGTON – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released new data today on national sales of medically important antibiotics for use in livestock in 2019. As overall sales rise, most drugs are once again going to the nation’s cattle and pig industries. Sales for pigs alone rose 9 percent. Together, drug sales for cows and pigs account for 83% of all medically important antibiotics sold for use in the livestock sector.
A statement follows from Dr. David Wallinga, Senior Health Advisor at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council):
“Over the past year, we’ve seen how novel infections can threaten our security, our economy and our health. The global spread of antibiotic resistance is one of those threats.
“It is appalling to see medically important antibiotic sales rise for the second year in a row. Clearly, not enough is being done to protect the nation from a future pandemic. The next Administration must act with the urgency that this public health threat demands. The Food and Drug Administration ought to immediately set a clear national goal of reducing medically important antibiotic use in livestock production by 50% by the end of 2023, relative to a 2009 baseline.”
Three of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals, either wild or farmed. Given the enormous scale of livestock production in the U.S., livestock antibiotic use drives selection for drug-resistant strains of bacteria to develop and spread. Yet in the U.S., medically important antibiotics are often fed to herds of pigs and cattle, on a routine basis and without time limits -- even when they are not sick. The World Health Organization deems this practice both unnecessary and dangerous.
Earlier this year, in partnership with Dr. Eili Klein of the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy, NRDC showed that nearly two-thirds of all medically important antibiotics sold in the U.S. are for use in livestock. On a weight-adjusted basis, U.S. pork and beef production uses antibiotics at a rate approximately 3 to 6 times higher than their counterparts in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Denmark. This overuse must be reined in if we are to curb the development and spread of antibiotic resistant bacteria from livestock operations to communities.
For a decade, the European Medicines Agency has had a comprehensive, coordinated program to collect, evaluate and issue transparent One Health reports that fully integrate information on antibiotic use and resistance in both human medicine and in the livestock sector. The new Administration should take immediate action to build and enact such a system, to close a longstanding and critical gap in U.S. infectious disease surveillance. The Government Accountability Office has repeatedly recommended as much since 2003.
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, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.