Sales of approved antibiotics for livestock use in the United States climbed by 23 percent from 2009 to 2014, adding to mounting concerns on antibiotic resistance and its human risks.
New data from the Food and Drug Administration also showed a 3 percent increased last year from 2013. A staggering 96 percent of these sales, too, were for animal feed and water, typically for growth promotion or preventing diseases in non-sick animals.
Livestock sales take up around 70 percent of the sales of medically important antibiotics in the country.
Antibiotic overuse contributes to drug-resistant bacteria and the development of superbugs, which victimize two million Americans a year and kill over 23,000 as a consequence.
Amid public criticism, agribusiness continues to defend widespread antibiotic use in the industry, saying it is necessary to help keep chickens, pigs, and cattle health and to enhance meat production for the U.S. market.
For Avinash Kar, National Resources Defense Council senior attorney, risky antibiotic overuse by the agriculture sector has been alarmingly rising in previous years. “[This puts] the effectiveness of our life-saving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick,” he warned.
In 2013, the FDA published voluntary guidelines for pharmaceutical and agricultural firms to phase out antibiotic use for livestock growth enhancement. It said that antibiotic drugs could still be administered in meat animals for disease, but by December next year should be pared back under a program aimed to keep the drugs out of the human food chain.
The new FDA report did not detail which antibiotics were given to different animals, in what volume, and for what purposes.
Democrat New York representative Louise Slaughter criticized the increased sales of antibiotics for livestock. "[It is] disgraceful since it came after the FDA issued voluntary guidance they claimed would actually reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture,” he said.
According to public health experts, one step Americans can take in the fight against antibiotic resistance is to purchase meat products from animals not raised on antibiotic feeds. Shoppers are advised to read labels, favoring meat products bearing the USDA Organic label.
It is crucial to use antibiotics only when absolutely necessary, the recommendations added.
Photo: Henry Hemming | Flickr