U.S. Livestock Industries Persist in High-Intensity Antibiotic Use

Curbing overuse is critical to slow the spread of antibiotic resistance.

Credit: Darcy Maulsby/iStock

Antibiotic-resistant bacteria already have spread to dangerous levels around the world. These “superbugs” infect more than 2.8 million Americans, directly causing at least 35,000 deaths each year in the United States, and more than 1.3 million deaths across the world.

A top contributor to this health threat is persistently high levels of livestock antibiotic use, including in the United States—much of which is avoidable and therefore unnecessary. An estimated 73 percent of all medically important antibiotics sold worldwide are for livestock production rather than for people.

Since 2018, NRDC analyses have repeatedly found that the U.S. livestock sector as a whole continues to use medically important antibiotics at a much higher rate than livestock producers in Europe. The 2022 update employs 2020 data on antibiotic sales for livestock production—the most recent year in which those data are available for both the United States and Europe. We found the intensity of livestock antibiotic use for 2020 was nearly twice as high in the United States (170.8 mg/kg of livestock) as for livestock production across Europe as a whole (91.6 mg/kg of livestock). A detailed methodology for the analysis is found in a separate 2022 Appendix.

European policymakers have a proven track record of public health success, with key interventions implemented over the last two decades, to curb the overuse of antibiotics in raising livestock. The United States ought to follow this example, as quickly as possible.

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