Antibiotic resistance—the proliferation and spread of bacteria that can withstand treatment with antibiotics—is a worsening global crisis. The 2.8 million drug-resistant infections in the United States each year already kill around 35,000 Americans; some experts estimate they are somehow involved in as many as 162,000 deaths.
Ongoing misuse and overuse of antibiotics in U.S. livestock production is a critical driver of this crisis. NRDC’s initial 2018 analysis found that U.S. livestock producers use medically important antibiotics at a rate much higher than European producers. We updated that analysis for 2020 using the FDA’s most recent figures on antibiotics sales for use in livestock. Those data indicate that U.S. beef feedlots, for example, use medically important antibiotics at a rate three to six times higher than beef producers in the United Kingdom, Denmark, the Netherlands, or France.
When countries have committed to improving animal health to prevent unnecessary antibiotic use, they have reduced their total use of antibiotics in livestock by up to 50 percent or more. For the United States, tremendous opportunities therefore abound to reduce overall antibiotic use much further, while improving animal health and meeting the needs of customers seeking more responsible antibiotic use practices.