Antimicrobial Use in US Livestock, Poultry 'Massive'

US - A new report by the Food and Drug Administration confirms what the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has been saying for years: American livestock and poultry producers are using massive amounts of antimicrobial drugs, which include antibacterials, antibiotics and antiparasiticals.
calendar icon 16 December 2010
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According to UCS, the FDA report, which the agency quietly posted on its web site on 10 December, found that nearly 29 million pounds of antimicrobials were sold in 2009 for both therapeutic and non-therapeutic use for all farm animal species. That figure is consistent with an estimate in a 2001 UCS report, Hogging It, which calculated that 25 million pounds of antimicrobials were used in one year in only three sectors – cattle, swine and poultry – for non-therapeutic purposes such as promoting growth and preventing disease in animals forced to live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.

Margaret Mellon, director of the UCS Food and Environment Program, commented: "The FDA findings corroborate what we concluded nine years ago. Antimicrobial use in US animal agriculture is way out of proportion of what is necessary. And that poses dire risks for human health by undermining the effectiveness of these drugs."

UCS estimated that the amount used for farm animals was about eight times more than the three million pounds doctors prescribed that year for human medical purposes. All told, UCS estimated that 70 per cent of total antimicrobial drugs used in the United States is devoted to non-therapeutic use in livestock.

Hogging It was attacked by the livestock industry, which charged that its estimates were based on flawed methodology. At the time, the US government was not tracking antimicrobial use in US livestock and poultry. In 2008, Congress passed the Animal Drug User Fee Act, which required the FDA to compile and disseminate data on antimicrobial sales and distribution in food animal agriculture. Last Friday was the agency's inaugural release of that information.

Ms Mellon added: "The Obama administration recognises we have a problem with agricultural antimicrobials, but it has yet to move forcefully on the issue. We hope the FDA report will motivate the administration to take concrete steps to protect public health by limiting inappropriate antimicrobial use."

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