By DOUG SCHMITZ
SILVER SPRING, Md. — A newly-released U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) report shows a 33 percent drop in livestock antibiotics sold between 2016 and 2017 for food-producing animals in the United States.
“These reductions are an indication that our ongoing efforts to support antimicrobial stewardship are having a significant impact,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.
Released on Dec. 18, the 2017 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals stated since 2009 – the first year the FDA started collecting and reporting the data – sales have declined by 28 percent.
The FDA added the totals represent only sales and distribution data and don’t reflect how the drugs were used in animals.
Under its Guidance for Industry (GFI) #213, which had gone into effect Jan. 1, 2017, antibiotics that are important for human medicine can no longer be used for growth promotion or feed efficiency in cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and other food animals.
In addition, 95 percent of the medically-important antibiotics used in animal water and feed for therapeutic purposes now require veterinary oversight and can no longer be purchased over-the-counter (OTC).
The report said the clearest impact is on sales of antibiotics used for growth promotion, which dropped from 5.7 million kilograms in 2016 to zero in 2017. OTC sales declined dramatically as well, from 8 million kg in 2016 to 271,280 in 2017.
Moreover, there was a decrease in most of the medically important drug classes sold for use in food-producing animals. For example, tetracyclines, which account for nearly two-thirds of all antibiotics sold for use in livestock, fell by 40 percent, compared with 2016, while sales of aminoglycosides, penicillins and macrolides dropped by 19, 18 and 15 percent respectively.
However, sales of fluoroquinolone antibiotics increased by 24 percent.
Gail Hansen, DVM, public health and animal medicine consultant, said overall, the reduction in livestock antibiotic use is good news on the antibiotic stewardship front.
“It shows the FDA guidance was successful in reducing the amount of antibiotics sold, without an increase in animal health or food safety problems during that time,” she told the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy’s CIDRAP News.
Among the food-animal groups, the report said the largest decline in antibiotic sales was seen in chickens. The report added the 47 percent decrease from 2016 to 2017 is likely linked to the poultry industry’s consumer-driven shift to raising chickens without medically important antibiotics.
But sales of medically important antibiotics also dropped by 35 percent in cows, 35 percent in pigs and 11 percent in turkeys. Overall, medically important antibiotics account for 51 percent of the antibiotics sold for use on food animals; the rest are antibiotics that aren’t used in human medicine.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), however, the FDA’s latest numbers also show the beef and pork industries remain high users of these drugs, at 5.1 million pounds and 4.5 million pounds in sales respectively in 2017, compared to 590,000 pounds in the chicken industry.
“We are seeing real progress, but the American meat industry continues to have a drug problem and the clock is ticking to solve it,” said Avinash Kar, NRDC senior attorney. “Far more antibiotics important to humans still go to cows and pigs – usually when they’re not sick – than to people, putting the health of every single one of us in jeopardy.
“The good news is, the data show change is possible and can happen quickly. To keep these life-saving drugs working for treating sick patients who need them most, the beef and pork industries have to step up.”
Although the FDA has not indicated it plans to set reduction targets for antibiotic use in animal agriculture, Gottlieb said the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is planning further action.
In a five-year plan released last September, the CVM said it will bring the remaining 5 percent of medically important antibiotics used in livestock under veterinary supervision; improve data on antibiotic sales, use and resistance in food animals; and encourage the development of alternative therapies for sick animals.
“While I’m very pleased with the results of the report, and the efforts by all of our stakeholders thus far to improve antimicrobial stewardship, our work isn’t yet done when it comes to fighting antimicrobial resistance,” Gottlieb explained.