Sales of antibiotics used to treat food-producing livestock dropped 10% in 2016, according to the FDA’s annual report on the amount of animal medicine sold across the country.
Cattle were the biggest users of antibiotics, responsible for 43% of the consumption of medically important antibiotics. Pigs (37%), turkeys (9%) and chicken (6%) used less, with the remaining 4% of sales intended for use in a mix of other, unspecified livestock.
Cutting on-farm antibiotic use has become a priority for the global meat industry, which has been criticised for driving up antimicrobial resistance. Health experts have called it one of the biggest threats to health and food security. And former Prime Minister of Belgium, Mark Eyskens, even wrote to this site warning that failure to address antimicrobial resistance could destabilise the global economy and lead to 300 million deaths.
‘We’re using fewer antibiotics’
News that antibiotic use appears to falling was welcomed by the meat sector.
The report did not cover the major Obama-era regulatory changes that banned the sale of antibiotics used to make animals gain weight, which came into force at the turn of the year. However, the National Pork Board said the latest results demonstrated America was heeding international calls to stop mass-medication of livestock, while protecting its stock.
“This report, which still is based on sales and not actual usage, supports what we already know at the farm level – we’re using fewer antibiotics overall today because we’re committed to reducing the need for them while protecting the health and welfare of our animals,” said National Pork Board president Terry O’Neel.
“When we must use antibiotics, we work closely with our veterinarians to ensure that we use them according to the FDA-approved label,” added O’Neel, a pig farmer from Nebraska.
Veterinarian Dave Pyburn said the report did not truly reflect overall on-farm antibiotic use, because Big Pharma did not record antibiotic sales on a species-by-species basis. This made it hard to estimate how many antibiotics were sold for use on a single species.
He added the report did not include data on the growth-enhancing feed additive ionophores, again making estimates about which species used more antibiotics than another less precise.
“Pig farmers use almost no ionophores, but poultry and beef producers use a fair amount of that class of antibiotics,” Pyburn said.