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Data Shows Drop in Sales on Antimicrobials for Food Animals

December 08, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Data Shows Drop in Sales on Antimicrobials for Food Animals

Historical trend still shows increases, cattle and pig industries are the bulk of sales

WASHINGTON, DC—Yesterday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its annual summary of the sales and distribution of antimicrobial drugs for food animals. The results show an overall 10% decrease in sales last year. The Agency has been tracking and reporting these sales data since 2009 and recently committed to releasing the annual data to the public before the end of the following year. True to this commitment, the data from 2016 is now publicly available here.

“The drop in antimicrobials sold for use in animals in 2016 is encouraging, and continuing this trend moving forward will be critical for protecting public health and creating lasting change in the food industry,” said Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic and Animal Policy at Center for Food Safety. “We see this as a positive sign that producers are responding to the concerns of consumers, health professionals, and animal welfare advocates.”

Public campaigns led by Center for Food Safety and others have pressured several large companies like McDonald’s, Subway, and Kentucky Fried Chicken to eliminate unnecessary uses of antibiotics in chicken over the last few years.

The annual sales data give us a glimpse into industry practices and trends since data was first collected and reported in 2009, including:

  • U.S. sales of all antimicrobials for food-producing animals decreased from 2015-2016. It is difficult to determine the exact cause of the 10% overall decrease last year. Public campaigns have pressured several large chicken producers to eliminate unnecessary uses of antibiotics over the preceding few years. At the same time, drug companies may have been working to remove growth promotion indications to comply with Guidance 213 prior to the deadline of January 1, 2017.

  • Total trends from 2009-2016 are less positive. Looking at this whole timeframe, sales of medically important antimicrobials increased by 9%, and sales of antimicrobials not considered medically important increased 15%. Further, sales of non-medically important antimicrobials labeled solely for production or for both production and therapeutic purposes increased 21%.

  • 2016 is the first year that drug companies were required to report sales by species, and 43% of medically important antimicrobials were marketed for cattle, 37% to pigs, and 15% to turkey and chicken. The industry has taken steps to eliminate routine use in chicken in the U.S., but clearly action on beef and pork is critical to achieve meaningful reductions in use.

  • For non-medically important antimicrobials, 55% were intended for use in cattle and 30% for use in chickens. Currently, antimicrobials not listed as medically important can still be used without restriction in healthy animals to promote rapid weight gain and suppress disease. Residues of these antimicrobials can remain in the waste and enter the environment through soil and water.

As we’ve previously shown, misuse of antibiotics important to human medicine in food animals is linked to the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that pose significant harm to humans. Antimicrobials have been routinely used to promote rapid weight gain and keep animals from succumbing to illness and disease in overcrowded, filthy conditions. This misuse helps drive large-scale, intensive confinement systems—which threaten public health, animal welfare, and food safety.

The annual sales data are vital to building some understanding of the patterns of use of antimicrobials in animals raised for food, especially since it is the only data we have at this time. It is, however, only one end of the chain, and the full picture will only be completed when we also have on-farm use data tracking the types, dosages, reasons, durations, and number of animals treated from the producers themselves.

“The recent downward trend over last year is encouraging, and hopefully industry will continue identifying successful strategies that reduce the use of any antimicrobials in food animals,” Continued Harsh. “Raising animals in higher welfare systems that provide sufficient space, adequate lighting, appropriate nutrition, and access to the outdoors can protect the health of the animals without excessive reliance on drug therapies.”

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