Updated: Feb 15, 2022
Antibiotic resistance is killing us and the meat industry is increasing their contribution to it again according to a new FDA report.
A new report from the FDA shows that sales and distribution of “medically important (to humans)” antibiotics for use on farmed animals increased by 9% in 2018 over the year before. This is despite the increasing resistance of pathogens to antimicrobials due to their overuse. And despite the much-touted FDA Guidance for Industry (GFI) #213 which went into effect at the beginning of 2017 and was supposed to promote the “judicious use of antimicrobials” laid out in GFI #209.
The seriousness of the antibiotic resistance problem cannot be overstated. U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Director, Robert Redfield, recently said that we should stop “Stop referring to a coming post-antibiotic era—it’s already here.” More than 35,000 people die from resistant infections every year and as time goes on, pathogens become resistant to more classes of antibiotics limiting treatment options even more. There are even pockets of the world in which bacteria resistant to a drug that many refer to as a “last resort” antimicrobial, Colistin, are now being found.
We have known about the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria since the 1960s and there have been recommendations to curtail the practice of using antimicrobial drugs on farmed animals for the purpose of growth promotion since at least 1980. Yet, the practice has continued for decades. The animal agriculture industry does not wish to give up the ability to add low doses of a drug to animal feed or water with the result of more growth with less feed and our government, as usual, has sided with lobbyists instead of common sense.
Finally, in 2012 and 2013, the problem got so big that it could no longer be ignored so, the FDA came up with the guidance noted above which was implemented in 2017. Unfortunately, their solution took the form of recommendations for the “voluntary adoption of judicious use principles.” Voluntary adoption seems to be working out as well as you might expect. After an initial drop from 8.3 million kilograms given to animals in 2016 to 5.5 million kg in 2017, we are back up to just over 6 million in 2018. The judicious use was supposed to entail only using antibiotics on the animals for therapeutic purposes. As the chart from the report below shows, the change is in name only. In 2016, the total was 8.3 million kg of which, 2.5 million was for therapeutic purposes. In 2018, the amount used for “therapeutic purposes” more than doubled to over 6 million kg. Either a lot of animals got sick mysteriously or the voluntary system is not working at all.
The next phase of the FDA’s answer to the antibiotic resistance problem, GFI #263 includes recommendations for “sponsors of medically important antimicrobial drugs approved for use in animals to voluntarily bring under veterinary oversight all products that continue to be available over the counter” I expect that will work out as well as the current volunteer system is. Regulators have to get serious about this problem now if it isn’t already too late.
Two years after this Blog was first written, we are still pumping over 6 million kilos of antimicrobials into farm animals every year. The updated chart below from the most recent FDA report shows that antimicrobial use in farm animals is still not going down after the initial drop in 2017.
According to an Oxford study, more than 1.2 million people died in 2019 as a direct result of antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections and these infections played a role in almost 5 million more deaths. This is more than were killed by HIV/AIDS or Malaria. The World Health Organization has declared that Antimicrobial-resistance is one of the top ten global public health threats.
Check out this page on the Slaughterhouse Watch site to see some of the medically important drugs we are still feeding farmed animals.