At a time when industry claims to be scaling back its use of antibiotics, newly released FDA data reveals a troubling upward trend. Sales of medically important antibiotics for use in food-producing animals increased 3 percent between 2013 and 2014—part of a 23 percent increase in use over the last five years. For one critically important class of drugs, cephalosporins, sales increased by 12 percent from 2013 to 2014, despite FDA placing restrictions on certain uses of them in 2012.
Nearly all of the sales of medically important antibiotics occurred over the counter, a stark contrast to the new FDA veterinary oversight requirements that are just starting to be implemented. We anticipate that the amount of antibiotics sold over the counter will change significantly as the rules come into force, and instead require a veterinarian’s order.
But an important question remains: Will FDA’s enforcement of veterinary oversight rules reduce the use of medically important antibiotics in agriculture overall? And will we ever have better information on how these drugs are used?
It’s still unclear how antibiotics are actually used—whether to promote growth, prevent disease in otherwise healthy animals or to treat disease in sick ones. That’s because FDA continues to fail to provide such information. By 2017, producers will no longer be able to use medically important antibiotics solely to promote growth. Yet, these drugs can still be given to healthy animals to prevent disease—a practice known to promote antibiotic resistance.
What we know about antibiotic use in agriculture is troubling, and what we don’t know is more troubling still. Every year, two million Americans face antibiotic resistant infections, and approximately twenty percent of those infections come from foodborne illness. We can’t afford to waste medically important antibiotics for questionable purposes in agriculture. That’s why we’re calling on Congress to pass legislation that would ban such nontherapeutic uses of antibiotics in livestock and poultry.