By Sarah Borron
Factory farms routinely use antibiotics to compensate for filthy conditions, a practice that promotes the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Food & Water Watch has been fighting to change policies about how antibiotics can be used in agriculture and to demand more information from government agencies about the problem.
Last week, the FDA released a report about antibiotic use in livestock and poultry. What’s interesting is not just what the report tells us, but what it doesn’t. For over two years, we’ve waited for FDA to make some significant changes to data collection and reporting on antibiotic use in livestock and poultry.
Let’s start with what the report does tell us–how many antibiotics producers purchased to use on livestock and poultry in 2013.
- Overall, antibiotic sales went up by 17 percent over a five-year period.
- For antibiotics that are important for human medicine, sales for use in animals went up by 20 percent in that same time frame.
- Medically important antibiotics accounted for nearly two-thirds of total sales of antibiotics for use in animal agriculture.
- Nearly all the medically important antibiotics given to animals were administered in food or water, a practice that can lead to imprecise dosing and higher likelihood of antibiotic resistance.
So, what important questions remain unanswered? To be able to better understand how antibiotic use in livestock production relates to antibiotic resistance patterns, we at least need to know how antibiotic use breaks down by different types of animals and why the antibiotics are being given to the animals. It makes a difference whether the antibiotics are given to healthy animals to prevent disease or to sick animals to treat disease. It also makes a difference to know which animals are getting which types of antibiotics as we examine, for instance, how Salmonella and E. coli are resistant to different drugs in different types of meat.
Antibiotic resistance is a complicated problem. We need more detailed data to understand how antibiotics are being used and how that affects resistance patterns. FDA has waited long enough; it’s time for them to finalize their new rules on data collection so the public can get a clear picture of how the meat industry is using antibiotics. We’ll let you know when they make a proposal so you can weigh in.
In the meantime, ask your Congressperson to protect antibiotics and stop the overuse of these important drugs on factory farms!