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Antibiotics and Animals Raised for Food: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics


From what I have been reading lately, it appears to me that the next big fight over agriculture’s ability to provide consumers with plentiful, safe and affordable meat and poultry products will focus on the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food.

And it also appears to me that the information being provided through media outlets is not designed to inform, but to misinform and play on the public’s lack of detailed knowledge about the use of antibiotics in animals raised for food.

And it also appears to me that the main thrust of the attack will be eliminating the use of antibiotics needed to maintain healthy animals in Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs.

Eliminating antibiotics to control or prevent infections in our herds and flocks will eliminate many CAFOs and drive up the cost of protein to the point where many will have to look elsewhere for this portion of their diets. And many opponents of the use of antibiotics in animals say: “And that would be a good thing.”

So is the agenda to protect me from multi-drug resistant bacteria, or is it to reduce the amount of animal products we consume?

To try and answer that question I want to supply the readers with some facts, facts that I will provide links for and can be repeated time after time as the truth, if anyone cares to listen to you.

First of all, a statistic often repeated by the crowd calling for change is that 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are used in animals.

The 80 percent number is meant to be a distraction from the real truth.

In truth, the numbers posted on the FDA’s website, titled 2010  SUMMARY REPORT on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, are in total kilograms of drugs sold.

The listing is not indicative of what the antibiotics were used for, nor is it an accurate reflection of illnesses treated vs. prevented, etc.

For instance, a 2,500 pound prize bull with pneumonia is going to be treated with a much larger dosage of an antibiotic than an 8 pound newborn with the same bacterial infection.

But the numbers are the best we have for animal antibiotic use, so I will be using them today.

For human use of antibiotics, the same caveat about weight applies. The antibiotic numbers sold for human use that I will use for this discussion come from a letter to Congresswoman Slaughter from the FDA dated April 19, 2011, citing the IMS Health, IMS National Sales Perspectives data Year 2009.

According to the FDA report, 28 percent of all antibiotics sold for animal use in 2010 were Ionophores.  Ionophores have never been approved for use in human medicine.

Several other drugs sold for use in animals are also not approved for use in human medicine. When they are combined with the Ionophore total, the percentage of antibiotics sold for use in animals but having no place in human disease treatment reaches 45 percent.

The largest class overall of antibiotics sold or distributed for use in animals in 2010 was the tetracycline class.  This class accounted for nearly 42 percent of total sales.

Tetracycline use in human medicine comprises about 1 percent of the total amount sold based on weight. Tetracycline used to be widely prescribed, but is now limited in use to treating the sexually transmitted disease caused by Chlamydia, Mycoplasma infections and Rickettsial diseases like Lyme and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

For these illnesses, there are antibiotics far superior to tetracycline. These other antibiotics, generally in the class called Macrolides, are the first line of therapy.

So the FDA statistics show that 87 percent of antibiotics used in animals are either never, or very rarely, used in human medicine.

Antibiotics critical to human health includes the cephalosporin and the fluoroquinolone classes. These two classes of antibiotics made up 24 percent of all human antibiotics sold in 2009, but combined, they only represented 0.3 percent of all antibiotics sold for use in animal health.

The reason for this disparity is that the FDA has already used its regulatory authority to limit these two categories of antibiotics to full therapeutic use to treat disease states in animals, limiting bacterial exposure to these antibiotics of critical importance to human health.

So when you read a report funded by the Pew Charitable Trust, or Consumers Union, stating that they found Salmonella sp. bacteria resistant to Cipro (a fluoroquinolone), where do you think that resistance came from? From the 11,000 kilograms used in animals, or from the 304,741 kilograms prescribed to treat humans?

Speaking of resistance in bacteria, penicillin was discovered in 1943; by 1950, just 7 short years later, 40 percent of all Staph isolates from US hospital intensive care units were resistant to penicillin. By 1960 that number was 80 percent.

Methicillin was discovered in 1959. In 1960 the first case of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) was found in England.

CAFOs did not contribute to this rapidly developing resistance. Human use did.

What about the other antibiotics of importance to human medicine, like penicillin and the aforementioned macrolide class? (An example of a macrolide, by the way, is the infamous Z-Pack, a front line drug for sinusitis and community acquired pneumonias, utilized in the past by many who will be reading this).

It is on these drugs that I think the discussion should be focused, realizing that the great majority of antibiotics used in animals are of little or no importance to me as a physician or grandparent, and that the two critical categories I mentioned above are already tightly regulated.

And the area of use that needs discussed is in the promotion category.

The FDA has approved four uses of antibiotics in animals: therapeutic, disease preventative, disease control and growth promotion through improved feed efficiency.

Congresswoman Slaughter’s PAMTA act and the proposals from many other organizations, well intended or not, would eliminate all antibiotic use in animals except for the treatment of actual infections, even though 87 percent of antibiotics used are not critical to your and my health.

Before anyone espouses such a radical change in policy, they should carefully review the statistics that followed Denmark’s broad restrictions of antibiotic use in animals. The total amount of antibiotics prescribed for treating animal infections is up, and animal mortality is also up.

When one treats an infection, not all the bacteria are always killed. Some survive by mutating and becoming antibiotic resistant.

I ask the question, “What produces more resistant bacteria – treating major infections with large dose, long term antibiotics, or with short term, low dose antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from multiplying in the first place?”

I don’t have the answer, but someone had better find it before they potentially create an even worse problem through bad policy.

Because the FDA page does not clarify how many antibiotics are used for each category, we can only guess. And the best guesses I’ve seen come from the Animal Health Institute.

AHI estimates that somewhere around 12-15 percent are used in the growth promotion category.

Appropriately, this is where the FDA is focusing its latest efforts to keep our antibiotics working.

In June 2013, the FDA released its Guidance for Industry (GFI) 209, draft GFI 213 and the Veterinary Feed Directive proposed rule.

These documents provide principles limiting the use of “medically important antibiotics” to judicious use only, translated means for prevention, control and treatment.

Injudicious use of these antibiotics important to human medicine would be for performance (growth promotion), would voluntarily cease within three years and would be accompanied by a marketing status change from over the counter to prescription only.

The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA), comprised of Infectious Disease specialists who consult on the most seriously infected patients, sent written testimony to FDA regarding the new Guidance for Industry documents, saying:

“IDSA commends FDA for moving forward with measures to encourage judicious use in animals of antimicrobials important to human health.”

A key caveat here is that the FDA is calling for this to be a voluntary change by the pharmaceutical industry and the men and women who grow our food-producing animals.

Many are not happy that the FDA did not take bigger, more aggressive steps.

Me personally, I think this erases my concerns – if industry and agriculture step up to the plate big time.

If they do not, we will hear even louder voices calling for a near total ban on antibiotics used in food-producing animals. And we may see the baby thrown out with the bath water.

Political pressure and political responses may produce change by legislation, not by rules and regulations, and there is a very important difference in the two methods of creating change.

When rules and regs are written in this country, they are usually written after lengthy debates and discussions amongst all parties, including scientists who review the facts.

Once written they are posted in the Federal Register with a 90-day comment period during which every American can say what is good or bad about the proposal, just as the IDSA did.

They are then either sent to OMB (The President) for review and approval or rejection, or they are rewritten based on the comments.

Two years to fruition is a fast tracked rule or regulation in this slow, deliberative process.

Legislation is often written behind closed doors, or appears as an amendment suddenly tucked onto a bill that simply must be passed, like an omnibus budget bill.

We saw that kind of political silliness when Congress moved catfish inspection over to the USDA in 2008.

And again when they barred USDA from implementing risk based inspection while mandating risk based inspection for FDA.

Biological Science vs. Political Science.

I know which one I prefer, especially after having participated in both.

(For Truth and Transparency, I want the readers to know that I do some consulting on food safety and public health for Elanco, a marketer of antibiotics, but have not been in contact with them about this Op-Ed. These are my opinions, and mine only. I was asked by FSN to write this, but was not told what to write. The only compensation I will receive for my time and thoughts will be a donation to the National MS Society in the form of support to my Daughter’s MS Walk team, Brooke’s Believers. Want to help find the cure? Contact me.) 

(Second disclaimer: I practiced medicine in Nebraska for 27 years before entering public service. I, like most of my peers, over-prescribed antibiotics, thus contributing to the problem at hand.)

© Food Safety News
  • Thank you for your insightful comments. Yes, I see a growing “noise level” regarding the use of antibiotics for animals raised for food. Quick actions need to be taken by the food industry to make sure the negative messaging doesn’t overwhelm the facts.

  • wicheesemaker

    This article is disappointing.  Being a cheese maker, I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but I’ve been aware of this issue for a long time and how it impacts the dairy industry.

    The dairy corporations and regulatory authorities in this country claim that our commercial milk supply is free of anti-biotics.  The reality on the ground is a very different story, though.  I have talked to multiple people who have worked on CAFOs and small CAFO-style farms, and told stories of antibiotic treated cows being milked into the same tank as the rest of the herd.  When the milk was screened for antibiotics, it came up negative, showing how poor our current tests are.

    This 2011 story from the NYTimes also tells a very different story than what the author of the above article tells:


    Of course, what is missing from the NYTimes article is that the European Union is also finding these antibiotic residues in imported American dairy products — anti-biotics that our tests apparently are not picking up, because they are either not sensitive enough or because they cannot screen for the newest classes of antibiotics used on modern CAFOs.

    As a cheese maker, this is all the more reason why I only use milk from small organic family farms.  I just do not trust the conventional milk supply in this country.

    I’m not opposed to all use of anti-biotics, but I think its well past time that Americans do something about our conventional system of animal husbandry.  Its doubtful we can trust the government to do this job, since it is so thoroughly controlled by big business.  I don’t have all the answers, but we have to start by admiting we have a problem.

    • Richard Raymond

      And the NYT is always honest and truthful, right?
      Let’s see what they said in this link. 788 cull cows tested positive for antibiotics at the slaughter facilities, where 2.6 million cull cows were slaughtered. That would be about 1 in 3,250 cows. And these are old, spent cows on their last legs of life. We have a problem with cull cows going to slaughter that are too weak for the trip, and get treated with antibiotics for infections, but that is not what we see with healthy, young dairy cows producing the milk we drink. This article was meant to point out that 87% of all antibiotics used in animals, by weight, are not of any  imp0rtance to human health, not to espouse organic farming or any other method that might prove to be unsustainable and certainly not effective in feeding over 300 million hungry Americans. 

      • grazierguy

        Dr Raymond you say only old spent cows are the problem.   Are you aware that the average dairy cow in the US is dead or culled by 4 years of age ??? (and they start milking at age 2)  Cows used to live twice that long, before CAFOs. 
         You also appear to be confused about our ability to feed our population.  In 2012 over 96 million acres in the US were planted to corn of which 40% (38 million acres) were used to make ethanol.  By the way that is not for human consumption.
         For real world info regarding organic farming potential see this site http://www.organicgardening.com/living/organic-methods-hold-water

    • If a treated cow had been milked into the tank and it passed inspection….obviously that means the cow had been cleared of anitbiotics. Or, you do have the rule of dilution. The milk tests are looking at parts per BILLION. As an illustration, that’s about a drop of antibiotics in an olympic swimming pool that they can detect. It doesn’t matter if that trailer load of milk came from one large farm or a dozen small farms, the test is carried out the same and a positive sample will result if antibiotics are present. As far as the EU, they carry out different regulations than the US. The specifications sheet for our Delvo milk tester even showed what the US requirements were versus the EU.

      • grazierguy

        No, that means that the testing is not for that particular antibiotic!!!  Don’t you know, each type of antibiotic has a specific test.  Antibiotics that are not allowed for dairy livestock are not tested for on a regular basis.  FDA has recently done a broad spectrum antibiotic testing regime on milk across the country due to concerns about extra label use of antibiotics for dairy livestock.  These results should be made public in the near future. 
        Also keep in mind Viagra works at less than 10 parts per billion.  I think you could call that an impact on reproduction!!!!

  • Michael Bulger

    Without delving into Richard’s broader (and in my opinion overly dismissive) points, I’d like to correct an important mistake he has made. Richard writes, “Congresswoman Slaughter’s PAMTA act and the proposals from many other organizations… would eliminate all antibiotic use in animals…”

    This is not true. In reality, PAMTA would only restrict the use of antibiotics that are medically-important in human medicine.

    For the sake of balance, readers might be interested in the positions of :
    World Health Organization (http://www.who.int/world-health-day/2011/presskit/whd2011_fs4d_subanimal.pdf),
    CDC on the importance of class-resistance and livestock antibiotic use (http://www.cdc.gov/narms/faq.html#related),

    and the innumerable scientific studies establishing the contributions of agricultural antibiotic use in driving antibiotic resistance (a Google Scholar search shows many results, for instance http://www.pnas.org/content/99/9/6434.short). 

  • husna

    The use of antibiotics for therapeutic use in animals is
    understandable. However, its use in growth promotion can be the topic of an
    important debate for those who wish to take it up, and the author has opened the doors for communication:) 

    From my personal perspective, none of the readers will go to
    the doctor and ask for a short dose of long term antibiotics for
    non-therapeutic use, then why should the animals we consume be subjected to the
    inhumane treatment?

    The overuse of antimicrobials for growth promotion in
    animals will increase susceptibility to these antibiotics, and additionally, create
    a reservoir of resistant bacteria in them, that eventually will be transferable
    to humans upon consumption.

    It has been scientifically proven that when certain
    antimicrobials are eliminated for use as
    growth promoting agents, the resistant genes to those antimicrobials in the animals decline as well, thereby
    reducing human exposure via dietary consumption of the same.

    Last, but not the
    least, the humane society, the largest advocate for animal protection in the US
    does not support non-therapeutic use of antibiotics.







    • Referring to the HSUS position on antibiotic use in food animals pretty well discredits you in a complete fashion.  HSUS opposes any use or ownership of animals.  You can’t expect an organization being sued under RICO (the Racketteering Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act) to be credible.

  • Conference Line

    I appreciate that this article took the time to break down the numbers that are thrown around so often. This a great opportunity for the ag industry to take the lead on the situation when so often it feels powerless to changes forced upon it. What’s important to remember is that while emotions run deep, science does need to play a part in the argument or things might just get worse than they were. It seems people forget that there are food safety risks associated with all types of production regardless of who the media “bad guy” of the week is. 

  • As an attorney for scores of dairy farmers in rural NY, I can tell you that antibiotics are taken seriously among the farmers I represent.  (NY’s average farm is 113 cows at this point).  There are serious financial penalties for any person who is caught with a positive antibiotic sample.  The penalty is that the farmer personally pays for the 1/2 tractor trailer load of milk ruined.  This amount represents 1 compartment in one of the large milk trailers that hold from 50,000 to 75,000 pounds of milk.   From a risk standpoint, some farmers carry insurance for such an event…the dumping of a 1/2 trailer of milk because of a problem.
        While Big Organic companies tell consumers that “conventional” milk is “full of antibiotics”, statistics tell a different story.  I saw a recent data summary of some 3.2 million trailer loads of milk tested for antibiotics, with only 621 positive results that ended in the compartment of milk being dumped.
      The real heros to me are the dairy scientists who have developed onfarm testing for farmers to use right on their farms.  At the same time, I know that veterinarians are working hard to better inform farmers as to proper use and withholding time.  Farmer webinars on antibiotics are extremely well-attended. Yes, we should improve our testings, improve our understanding of antibiotics categories, withholding times and even alternative treatments.  We owe this to our consumers and future generations.   But, we need details and not rhetoric.
      I also work as a part time cheesemaker.  I place little trust in claims that organic dairy farms’ handling of antibiotics is superior to that of conventional dairy farms. If a cow is treated even one time, she must then be removed from the herd (in my area this means “Slaughtered.”)  Some organic farmers do treat sick cows with antibiotics, but then are supposed to get rid of the cow.  (Withholding time on the meat followed?)   Having witnessed an organic dairy farmer shoot a beautiful down cow because he said he did not want “to mess around with antibiotics”, I want nothing to do withholding modern medicine from a sick animal whose suffering might be alleviated with antibiotics.  This form of cruelty, in itself, makes me sick.

    • grazierguy

      NYFarmer, so tell me what magical antibiotic will cure a downed cow???  Please enlighten us with the BMP (Best Management Practice)  that covers this.  Most if not all down cows are suffering from nerve damage, structural damage, or serious metabolic problems.  NONE of these issues will be corrected with an antibiotic, will they?? 

      • Rex

        The cow may/may not get antibiotics, depending on how she does in a downed state (more susceptible to bacterial infection the longer she’s down, etc.). She’ll also probably be getting meds for the nerves (anti-inflammatories), drugs which have their own withdrawal times (for both meat and milk). So NYFarmer’s point and story is well-taken. 

        There are drug choices which have shorter (or no) withdrawal times, so I don’t agree that withholding milk (or “removing,” temporarily, from milking herd) means slaughter. The vet profession and the drug industry has spent so much effort in advancing the care of cows (and all farm animals) as well as the food/milk safety aspects; makes no sense that an uninformed group would restrict their use of that advanced medicine.I so appreciate this intelligent, informed discussion. As a cow vet living in New York City, I can’t identify even a handful of locals who understand anything about meat production/agriculture.

    • Steve Peak

      Lots of new research shows a clear link between imbalances in the animal / human micro biome and inflammation (which equates to general disease). Here’s an example: babies (not just animals, obviously) born via c-section assume MUCH greater risk for immune illnesses (among other things)… (http://sciencenordic.com/mouse-study-c-sections-cause-immune-system-malfunction) … This is essentially caused by not being “slathered” with the mother’s micro flora upon exiting the birth canal. This situation is made worse if the mother is on antibiotics, which transfer to the baby and upset a basically nullified new micro biome before it can be seeded while protected by the mother’s immune system. My point is to first illustrate the importance of a healthy micro biome. There are countless other links to solid data, so if you’re curious, definitely Google it. The issue here is that in using antibiotics at all, any child born thereafter is at a much much higher risk of infection or disorder. This effect is compounded by chicken and cow feed that is devoid of a range of nutrients (just like salt-chelated fertilizers)… and nutrients are important in feeding GOOD bacteria, and food made with arsenic for use as an anti-fungal / anti-bacterial. … So I guess what I’m getting at is… the entire process is broken. You can’t fight good bacteria long term without good bacteria. The only logical, scientifically proven, long-term potential answer is to nurture and understand the micro biome of both animals and humans and take steps to protect it generations are weakened by a cascade of compromised microbial systems that can take hold given the right (wrong) conditions. The future of farming (and indeed, human diet), in my opinion, perhaps… will more likely include probiotic and prebiotic dietary treatments for protecting and growing the immune system instead of using expensive pharmaceuticals to wipe out everything and hope for the best. Just a thought.

      • NYFarmer

        We do try to utilize good bacteria as much as possible for our cows and calves. I personally think it is quite helpful. For example, we give all the baby calves yogurt with real dairy culture. Another thing that has been useful (and you may laugh) but we do cud transplants from healthy cows to sick cows. A local physician has even come and gotten cuds from healthy cows to give to a sick alpaca. There are also cattle nutrients now to add to feed that include a probiotic if one wants to do this on a larger scale. Yes, this is a good area to learn more about and I hope people will. For people, fermented foods, great cheeses and naturally cultured yogurts are great. I know I get my share! Thanks for commenting, Steve.

  • underthewybluesky

    For all the rhetoric on antibiotics used in animal raising facilities I have never seen any empirical evidence of antibiotic levels in cooked meat.  Do antibiotics in meat products even survive the cooking process?  Does this data even exist? 

    • Richard Raymond

      Meat and dairy products are routinely tested for antibiotics and discarded if present. That is not the issue on antibiotics used in animals raised for food. The issue is whether or not antibiotics used in animals is contributing to the increasing prevalence of bacteria in the environment that are resistant to more antibiotics and thus an increasing threat to our health.  I propose that this might be the case in limited examples, such as macrolides used as growth promotants, but the move to remove all antibiotics used in human medicine from use in animals to prevent and control disease is overkill to the nth degree and will threaten our affordable and safe food supply. 

      • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

         Your own admission that you have spent 27 years in private
        medical practice over-prescribing antibiotics strongly suggests that you are
        out of your depth on this topic. 
        This impression was strengthened by your statement that penicillin was
        discovered in 1950.  In fact,
        penicillin appeared, in quantity, on the battlefield in 1944 and was credited
        with having saved many Allied lives. 
        Nevertheless, you have embarked on this path, and, for the sake of the
        discussion in this forum, you should finish.  Thus far, you seem to have studiously ignored the comments
        made previously by Mr. Michael Bulger, who speaks to what you state is the
        central point of this question:  “
        . . . the increasing prevalence of bacteria in the environment that
        are resistant to more antibiotics and thus an increasing threat to our
        health.”  New antibiotics are still
        being discovered, but the rate of discovery has slowed considerably in past
        decades.  Big Pharma has been
        obliged to adjust their profitability expectations of further antibiotic
        discovery.  One result has been a
        move towards vaccines and other biologics.  If the evolution of bacterial antibiotic resistance
        continues to outpace human innovation, then we humans will find ourselves up
        the creek without a paddle.  We
        already have a health care system this country cannot afford.  What is going to happen when the cost
        of treating a human infection (e.g., with
        vaccines) goes up ten-fold?  I can
        foresee at least three sequelae: 
        (a), Big Pharma will be very happy indeed; (b), Health insurance
        companies will go broke and (c), people will die from what used to be easily
        treatable infections.  I think you
        should answer Mr. Bulger’s comments. 

  • Richard Raymond

    I tried to stick just to facts that I could provide a resource for readers to double check my credibility. I did misspeak, unintentionally, when I said PAMTA and other efforts would eliminate all antibiotic use except for treatment of clinical disease. Michael is correct, it is just antibiotics important to human medicine. The FDA  includes tetracycline in that category, although I suspect if all the readers asked their primary care physician when the last time they wrote a script for a tet they would not be able to recall that event. PAMTA and others would eliminate this class of antibiotics for use in animals for disease control and disease prevention and that would lead to animal suffering, death, and probably more resistant bugs because resistance can develop even when a full dose therapeutic dose is being administered. For “husna’s” benefit, antibiotics are often prescribed in human medicine to prevent disease. A few examples: Cipro when traveling to exotic places to prevent traveler’s diarrhea, penicillin to dormitory residents when a fellow dorm resident contracts meningitis, or an IV dose to a mother-to-be with a fever, just before the cord is clamped during an emergency C-Section.  The main point , backed by FDA facts, I was trying to drive home was that 87% of all antibiotics used in animals raised for food are of little or no importance in human medicine, and, in fact, comprise only 1% of all antibiotics sold for human use.  I wish we could get rid of all the talking points, on both sides of the debate, that are wrong and misleading and stick to the important topics, such as the use of Macrolides as growth promotants.

  • Oginikwe

    The 80% figure came from the 2009 reporting of antibiotic usage in accordance with an amendment to the Animal Drug User Fee Act.  Prior to the amendment, we could only guess. Agriculture used  13.1 million kilograms or 28.8 million pounds; 3.3 million kilograms or a little over 7 million pounds were used by people. Comparing the two, agricultural use is 79.8%  and 20.2% was used by people. Seems disingenuous  to attack that 80% figure with stats from the following year. 

    Thank you for the 2010 link, though–I hadn’t seen that. And, just look at all that tetracycline . . .

    • Richard Raymond

      I did not mean to attack the 80 % by using 2010 stats. They really do not differ that much from the 2009 stats you quote. What I meant to bring to the discussion were two points.
      The first is that the total amount of antibiotics sold or distributed is determined by weight, not by therapeutic use. For example, the amount of Augmentin needed to treat an ear infection in a 5 KG child is 20% of that needed to treat the same infection in a 25 KG child. The amount needed to treat a 2,000 four legged animal is exponentially more. And if the doc prescribes doxycycline for your sinusitis, it might be 100 mg per day, but if the doc prescribes a cephalosporin it might be 2,000 mg per day. Using weights is all we have, and I say that in the OpEd, but it is a poor measure of how many critters are being treated and for what.
      But much more importantly to me is that the 80% (or whatever number you choose to use) is not important and is only meant to inflame the rhetoric, as “Pink Slime” was used to bring down an industry. It could be 20% or 95%, but what is important is whether or not the antibiotics used in animals presents a threat to  my health. I tried to point out that 87% of the total, by weight, of antibiotics sold or distributed for use in animals raised for food were of insignificant importance to human medicine, accounting for only 1% of all antibiotics sold or distributed for use in humans. It is that 13% that we need to focus on, not the 80%  number that is simply a diversionary tactic.
      In fact, if you just take a look at that 13% of antibiotics used in animals that is important to human health, then the total of medically important antibiotics used in animals is significantly less than the total used in human medicine. And that is a fact supported by the links I provided. That is where the discussion should begin.

  • justic4all

    “So is the agenda to protect me from multi-drug resistant bacteria, or is it to reduce the amount of animal products we consume?”I agree as you do that the first part of your question needs to be addressed separately. 
    However, as far as the 2nd part of your question is concerned, at least from what I’ve read I don’t believe the MAIN media and special interest agenda is about reducing “the amount of animal products that we consume” (though CLEARLY Americans don’t need anywhere NEAR the amount of protein they consume each day). Rather, from what I’ve read, the main issue is centered specifically around FACTORY FARMED animals and ALL that implies.

    • Katita2009

      The agenda from most the people who are anti antibiotics use in food animals is to really drive up the costs of these high quality nutritious proteins and end animal agriculture. Groups like these would include HSUS (who lately has been using the legal system and emotional arguments to influence large pork buyers-for example ending gestation stall usage by McDonalds, Burger King, Costco, etc), ASPCA, PETA, and many other animal rights extremists.

      The point Dr. Raymond is trying to make is that the arguments they make are flawed. They either are misinformed themselves or are intentionally doing the misinforming. The fact that Dr. Raymond is trying to make is that the oft quoted 70-80% of antibiotics are used in agriculture is flat out wrong, and that it is not a main driver of antibiotic resistance since most of the antibiotics (87%) are not even used in human medicine. He is saying that we should be concerned about the small percentage that are used in human medicine. Of this small percentage the FDA is doing it’s best to have their usage brought about.

  • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

    Facts need to have at least some relevance to this discussion.  First of all, Alexander Fleming is the person generally credited with having discovered penicillin 1n 1928 (not 1950).  Granted, others from around the world may have discovered the same phenomenon earlier.  Nevertheless, by 14 March 1942, Merck & Co. had enough penicillin to successfully treat the first patient with penicillin.  By June 1942, the US had enough penicillin to treat ten patients.  In July of 1943, plans were laid to allow the US to manufacture 2.3 million doses of penicillin in time for the Normandy invasion of 1943.  As it happened, 1944 was also the publication date of the first paper describing penicillin resistance [Kirby WMM (1944) Extraction of a highly potent penicillin inactivator from penicillin resistant staphylococci. Science Vol. 99, pp. 452-453].  Publication of any paper in a leading journal like Science generally takes at least a year or two.  Such papers must also face peer review, which also takes time, generally measured in months.  The point here is that penicillin resistance was found in staphylococci well before this antibiotic was present in any quantity.  Many (but not all) staphylococci must therefore have already possessed a natural resistance to penicillin.  The mechanism of this resistance was a naturally-occurring enzyme on the outer cell wall of staphylococci that destroyed penicillin, making this organism a poor choice for the study of penicillin resistance.  Having said that, let me also say that the development and spread of resistance of a penicillinase-resistant penicillin like Methicillin is a different matter entirely.  Indeed, this matter is chock full of biochemical and genetic nuance that cannot be understood by simple statistical argument.

    • Your comment reflects one of the challenges of this discussion almost exactly (people using misinformatioin and distortions to sway the discussion).  Dr.Raymond did not say pencillin was discovered in 1950.  He said “Speaking of resistance in bacteria, penicillin was discovered in 1943; by 1950, just 7 short years later, 40 percent of all Staph isolates from US hospital intensive care units were resistant to penicillin. By 1960 that number was 80 percent.”  While your point that penicillin was discovered in 1928 is probably accurate, surely you will concede that penicillin wasn’t widely used until 1943.  So, yes, Dr. Raymond should have used a term other than “discovered” for the 1943 adoption of penicillin.  At the end of it all, it looks like you purposely avoided his point in pursuit of making your own point.  Dr. Raymond’s point was that there was considerable development of resistance by Staph, to penicillin well before the antibiotic was used to any great extent in livestock husbandry.

      • Richard Raymond

        I love it when people can say what I meant to say, even if I did not say it correctly. Jerry, you are right. Mike, you are wrong and you know it, but continue to distort. I should have said penicillin was first mass produced for human use in 1943.

  • Peter Mundy

    Interesting article in ‘The Independent’ on new study by Cambridge University, which found MRSA in UK milk supply – and links antibiotic use in dairy farming to directly emergence of new MRSA strains.

    “If farmers were not screwed into the ground by the supermarkets and
    allowed to get a fair price for their milk they would be able to use
    fewer antibiotics,” he said [Dr. Mark Holmes, of the department of veterinary medicine, Cambridge University, who led the study, published in Eurosurveillance]. “Common sense tells us that anything
    we can do to reduce use of antibiotics will reduce the growth of
    resistant bugs. We want to wean our farmers off antibiotics and the only
    way we can do that is with better regulation.”

    See http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/new-mrsa-superbug-strain-found-in-uk-milk-supply-8431187.html

  • Interesting article in ‘The Independent’ from late December on a new study by The University of Cambridge, which links the emergence of new strains of MRSA to the use of antibiotics in farming.

    Dr. Mark Holmes, of the department of veterinary medicine, who led the study, published in ‘Eurosurveillance’, said:
    “If farmers were not screwed into the ground by the supermarkets and
    allowed to get a fair price for their milk they would be able to use
    fewer antibiotics… Common sense tells us that anything
    we can do to reduce use of antibiotics will reduce the growth of
    resistant bugs. We want to wean our farmers off antibiotics and the only
    way we can do that is with better regulation.”

    See http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/new-mrsa-superbug-strain-found-in-uk-milk-supply-8431187.html

  • underthewybluesky

    The general public believes that antibiotics are present in the food they eat or the milk they drink.  They do not grasp the concept of bacteria in the environment as the cause of their health issues, to them it’s a food not an environmental one.  There is a huge failure to communicate issue here and the media isn’t helping nore is HSUS.  What the general, somewhat miss-lead, public believes is what rules how we grow or food.

  • Richard Raymond

    Thanks, Katita. You nailed it precisely. I am not saying “no problem”, I am saying the 80% is meant to inflame and enrage, just like the use of “pink slime” did, and is no where close to accurate

  • Organizations like the CDC, World Health Organization, American Public Health Association, American Medical Association, Farm Aid, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, and hundreds more have stated that reducing antibiotic use in agriculture is an important goal. Many of these groups have endorsed PAMTA (http://www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/food_and_agriculture/pamta-endorsers-112th.pdf). To characterize these groups as emotional or extremist is wrong.

    What Richard fails to appreciate, and that the major scientific and medical organizations understand, is that antibiotic use in agriculture does contribute to resistant bacteria and that class-resistance means that pathogens can gain resistance to one type of antibiotic by being exposed to a similar but not necessarily identical antibiotic. In other words, if a pathogen develops resistance to tetracycline it can also be capable of resisting other antibiotics that work in similar ways as tetracycline.

    • Oginikwe

       Exactly.  It really doesn’t matter if 80% or 10% or 0.25%  of antibiotics are used by the industry if the results are the same in building antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

      Just like “pink slime” wasn’t really the issue: the issue was people thought they were buying ground meat and fat not ground meat, fat, connective tissues, et al. treated with ammonia.

  • Richard Raymond

    Somehow my message that only 13% of antibiotics used in human medicine are also used in animal medicine has been turned into a personal assault on me and Big Pharma. That is why I do not respond to responders that use this venue for their own misguided agenda. And I did NOT say Penicillin was discovered in 1950. What I said was that Penicillin resistant Staph were present in 40% of samples taken in hospitals in 1950 and that Penicillin was, for all practical purposes, first used in 1943. And BTW, I think any MD practicing medicine in the 70s and 80s, esp those swamped in rural practices just trying to get to the end of the day, overprescribed antibiotics. As for as Bulger, he is clearly on the other side of any rational discussion I have tried to have on FSN and has way too much time on his hands.  

    • Michael Bulger

      Oh, how mature. Richard clearly does not like being corrected. I must be just insufferable in my endeavor to relay facts, that it warrants such written abuse. If not reliable in comprehension, Richard certainly delivers in caustic entertainment. Would that the subject not concern actual human suffering, misery, and death…

    • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

       Indeed, you did not say that
      penicillin was discovered in 1950. 
      My mistake.  You said
      that:  “ . . . penicillin was discovered
      in 1943.”  In fact, it was
      discovered in 1928.  I have already
      given some of the history of penicillin’s discovery and early use in previous
      posts.  Some time ago, I lectured
      second year medical students on the use of antibiotics.  I still remember many of them coming up
      after each two or three hour lecture to tell me that they thought my
      presentation altogether too complicated and asked me to just name one or two
      broad-spectrum antibiotics, with the capacity to take care of anything and
      everything they were likely to come up against, that they should use as an
      all-purpose cure for infectious disease. 
      My lectures informed them in detail why that was a bad idea but the ones
      who questioned me thus apparently listened with cloth ears and later probably
      went on to over-prescribe antibiotics and contribute to the problem all of us
      have today.  Today, the most likely
      place to pick up MRSA remains the hospital but a close second is everyone’s
      neighborhood gym, where the majority of people using a piece of equipment leave
      it covered in their sweat for the other guy to deal with.  Medical folk are now running so scared
      that prophylactic use for humans is being disallowed, even where some of us
      believe it should be permitted on a case-by-case basis for the good of the
      patient.  Such fear-driven,
      ill-considered policy just plays into the hands of malpractice attorneys.  You seem determined to “save” the meat
      industry from “the misguided,” “the crazies,” “the vegetarians” and folks with
      “ . . . way too much time” on their hands.  You apparently refuse to engage in substantive discussion by
      claiming “personal assault,” yet you do not seem to recognize the ad hominem attacks your own name-calling so clearly
      displays.  I enjoy eating
      meat.  I once enjoyed eating
      hamburgers cooked “medium.”  I
      don’t dare do so again until the meat industry comes to grips with the problems
      of STEC (Shiga toxin-containing Escherichia coli).  Take
      the case of the ionophores you say are perfectly safe to use because they are
      not used in human medicine.  You
      did not mention that the reason ionophores are not used on humans is because
      they are quite toxic for humans, with the main activity against the
      cardiovascular system.  Ionophores
      are toxic for cattle as well.  The
      monensin LD50 value for Hereford cattle has been reported as a single dose of
      39.8 mg/kg (38 ppm).  The human
      LD50 for monensin is not known, of course, but is not expected to be very
      different from that of cattle. 
      This antibiotic is often administered to cattle at an average dose of 1
      or 2 mg/kg/day.  A great deal may
      be excreted but some is not.  In
      2009, a JECFA report calculated that at the maximum residue limits of set for
      monensin, the average diet could be expected to provide 481 micrograms of
      monensin per person per day.  Let’s
      assume, as many do, that the average human weighs 70 kg.  This would make the average intake of
      monensin roughly 7 micrograms per kilogram per day or 0.007 mg/kg/day (7
      ppb/kg/day).  This is quite low
      relative to the dose give to cattle, but, is that low enough to assume that
      eating beef laced with this amount of monensin will not cause any
      chronic cardiovascular pathologies in humans?  If data to answer this question is out there somewhere, I
      haven’t seen it.  As to the
      question of whether monensin-laced feed supplements are responsible for the antibiotic
      resistance of commonly-used antibiotics, the answer seems to be no.  However, ionophores have been shown to
      preferentially inhibit Gram positive bacteria in the bovine gut while leaving
      most Gram negatives intact.  STEC
      is, of course, a Gram negative and I would expect it to become enriched in any
      environment containing ionophores. 
      Furthermore, some ionophores (but not monensin) have already been shown
      to induce the Stx prophage from STEC. 
      So, even if (in this ionophore example) monensin is cleared of causing
      any damage on its own or of stimulating the development of resistance to other
      classes of antibiotics, why would any meat producer want to use a finishing
      agent in a CAFO that may exacerbate difficulties with STEC?  The development of antibiotic
      resistance is a serious technical problem given our current state of
      knowledge.  A technical problem
      calls for a technical solution.  I
      wish meat producers and manufacturers well but I also find it unfortunate that
      those who do not appreciate the seriousness of this matter may win a battle
      here and there but will lose the war in a courtroom to those same cold, hard
      facts that should be but have so far not been at the center this discussion. 

      • justic4all

        Thanks for posting this.  Some interesting additional factors to consider, investigate, in the use of these antibiotics in animals.

  • justic4all

    Re:  “Tetracycline use in human
    medicine comprises about 1 percent of the total amount sold based on weight.”

    Richard – just curious what specific study did you see mention this percentage?
     Can you provide a link to the study? And was this 1% number just a U.S.
    statistic or worldwide statistic?

    Given that you
    mentioned tetracycline accounts for nearly 42% of total sales in antibiotics
    sold or distributed for use in animals in 2010, and that it still is effective
    in treating several fairly common infections such as some of the ones you
    mentioned above, it would still seem to be prudent to look at this antibiotic
    use a little further before discounting it as an issue (especially if
    resistance should develop from other antibiotics used to treat these same

    You also mentioned fluoroquinolones together with cephalosporin are critical to
    human health and make up 24 percent of all human antibiotics sold in 2009, but combined, you said they only
    represented 0.3 percent of all antibiotics sold for use in animal health.  I came across a study published last year that found flouroquinolones were being routinely and illegally – which may explain why they represent a small percentage of sales – used in poultry: 

    One paragraph in the article referencing the study


    stated, “One study, just published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal,
    Environmental Science & Technology, found that feather meal
    routinely contained a banned class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones.
    These antibiotics (such as Cipro), are illegal in poultry production because
    they can breed antibiotic-resistant “superbugs” that harm humans … “The results of this study recommended
    further research be done and more importantly, seems to call into question how well these types of laws/regulations are being complied with, and also to what degree they are
    getting enforced via inspections. I believe I recall seeing somewhere that the
    FDA/USDA budgets for inspections have been drastically reduced over recent
    years. If that’s the case, this could be having a negative effect on compliance.


    for this class of drugs also, it would seem prudent that a more in-depth
    analysis be done here as well before it’s discounted altogether as a potential contributor to the problem of antibiotic resistance in humans.

  • Richard Raymond

    “justic4all”, the link to the data on tetracycline sales is the letter to Congresswoman Slaughter provided in the OpEd post. If you go to that link, you will find the data on about page 8 or so. The data are for US sales to pharmacies and hospitals, not necessarily to patients. And it is by weight, so not necessarily an accurate reflection  of total use, as I point out in the article. There is certainly room for debate around the tetracycline use, I raise it just for that reason so thanks for commenting. The indications for tetracycline use are very rare, and for everyone there is a better alternative, usually a macrolide, and that is why I think the macrolide class deserves a hard look at its use in animals, while the anti-antibiotic group would just ban all antibiotics used in human medicine from use in animal health except to treat the infections we all know would dramatically increase.
    As for flouroquinolone use in poultry, it is banned by the FDA for most indications, certainly as a feed additive, and if someone uses it illegally, I do not know how to get around that, but I doubt seriously that it is routinely used.

  • justic4all

    The problem I have with antibiotic use in factory farmed animals is that it’s only treating the “symptom” but NOT the root cause of the problem, which is the substandard conditions these animals are being kept in that’s causing them to become sick in the first place. But that’s unfortunately not the subject of this article – though clearly is where the focus should be placed, because until THAT problem gets addressed in any meaningful way and we get “weaned” off that system to a more sustainable model, we will unfortunately have to rely on antibiotics to keep the “masses” from at least immediately dying of food poisoning from diseased food animals. Our current food system IS, however, causing us and our overall planet a slow death (and many important organisms to our ecosystem a fast death).  It’s not sustainable.

  • This added an interesting bit for me especially the part about the use of antibiotics in apples and pears.
    where are the pounds of antibiotic used there counted.


    the relevant paragraph

    And the debate does not just include humans and animals. Did you know that streptomycin and tetracycline are used in apple and pear production to control a bacterial disease called fire blight? At the NIAA conference plant pathologist George Sundin, PhD, Michigan State University, discussed antimicrobial use in plant agriculture, its issues with resistance and antimicrobials in the environment, bringing a whole new perspective to the conversation.

  • husna

    I am sorry but I am not aware of any organization’s opposing views on use/ownership of animals. My comment is from a scientific perspective only.

  • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

    My concern here is not one of historical accuracy (or the lack of it) regarding the widely accepted date of penicillin’s discovery.  Dr. Kirby published a paper in 1944 showing penicillinase-mediated resistance to penicillin.  Work of this nature would take at least a year or two to complete.  In addition, to the peer review process itself tends to take months.  This means that Dr. Kirby could not have discovered a penicillinase-mediated penicillin-resistant Staphylococcus later that 1943 and probably in 1942 or even earlier.  Half of 1943 had come and gone before even the plans to manufacture penicillin had been laid.  Penicillin, in 1942 or earlier and the first half of 1943 was a laboratory oddity (and, perhaps, a gleam in the eye of Merck).  Both you and Dr. Raymond speak of the “development” of resistance to penicillin by staphylococci.  Since mass production did not even begin to gear up until the second half of 1943, there could have been no existing driver to “develop” the resistance in the strain studied and published by Dr. Kirby, therefore, one may only conclude that many staphylococci are naturally resistant to penicillin.  It seems to me an inappropriate statistical inference to speak of the “development” of penicillin resistance in a group of microorganisms many of whose members are already naturally resistant.  I hope this helps.

    • Richard Raymond

      So you are saying MRSA is a natural development, and not linked to use in animals?  I like that attitude, although I doubt you meant it when you say Staph is just naturally resistant. Careful what you write, as we have seen some will take and distort it to say I said Penicillin was discovered in 1950, right? 

  • Antibiotcs are also used in ethanol production and other fermentations to slow excess  growth 

  • Mike_Mychajlonka_PhD

    The statement you have made here, regarding MRSA (i.e., Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus aureus), could only have been written by a layman, woefully uninformed as to the considerable difference penicillin and methicillin.  Indeed, had you bothered to read my post to this forum of 5 days ago, you might have noticed that I drew a clear distinction between penicillin and methicillin:  ” . . . let me also say that the development and spread of resistance to a penicilinase-resistant penicillin like Methicillin is a different matter entirely.”  The tragedy of your continued petulance is really the harm done to the consulting clients you have named (e.g., Elanco) and indeed to much of the meat industry in general.  They deserve better.  As I have said elsewhere, the contribution of animal husbandry practices to generalized antibiotic resistance is a serious technical problem.  From where I sit, this problem admits of several technical solutions.  We are not going to find and then implement these solutions (and they enjoy the considerable competitive advantage they will represent to those first on that scene) if we spend our time screaming and shouting.

  • Sceptic

    I might be a bit late to the party, but I feel like I must post as this article, masquerading as expert opinion could in fact not be much further from that… and is from someone with a clear conflict of interest. Trust the conclusions at your peril.

    I don’t have time to fully deconstruct all of the arguments made above, so I’ll have to leave it to this point:

    “I ask the question, “What produces more resistant bacteria – treating
    major infections with large dose, long term antibiotics, or with short
    term, low dose antibiotics to prevent the bacteria from multiplying in
    the first place?””
    Both, quite clearly are improper use of antibiotics. For major infections – treat with large does over a short time as possible to kill as many bacteria as you can.
    You cannot stop bacteria multiplying with low dose antibiotics. Low dose antibiotics are merely a method to cultivate as many resistant organisms as possible. Adding sub-inhibitory levels of antibiotics as a prophylactic to animal feed to boost growth in animals is a sure fire way to breed resistant organisms, though it will make Elanco and our author some money. Those organisms which are resistant now receive a small but significant selection advantage due to the fact they can still grow normally, and are now given the chance to optimise their resistance mechanism while also out compete those bacteria which are not resistant. It is insane.

    One of the few points I can agree with is that the media should not simply use the weight of antibiotics to convince the public. But perhaps they should make it known that:

    1. Resistance developed on farms can spread to humans
    2. Trials reducing antibiotic use in Europe have reduced prevalence of resistant organisms.
    3. While many of the actual antibiotics used on farms are different, they belong to the same classes used for humans, and so the resistance mechanism is the same
    4. It is not uncommon for a healthy pig to spend 20% of its life receiving an antibiotic dose. Should we do the same for children so they can grow faster?

  • Erin

    Funny you mention that ionophores and other antibiotics are not approved for human use…..where do you get that humans are using these for personal consumption? Did you KNOW that as a requirement to register a animal feed product with the FDA rigorous studies must be done indicating no trace residuals will be passed along to the meat consumer? Did you know that at various intervals during drug studies, animals are “pulled” from the drug and highly sensitive detection techniques are used to determine if there could be any trace residual found in (muscle, poop, egg, milk, etc.)?!?! These antibiotics are easily metabolized (thus utilized and transitioned) by the animal-if they weren’t they would be rendered ineffective! Here’s an idea before you start spewing a bunch of nonsense where you seem to think you have done “research”….why don’t you try doing REAL RESEARCH. The kind that doesn’t just sit on a couch and read endless articles and then reclipping them to come to your own opinionated consensus. Try actually purchasing a piece of cheap meat from your grocer…..or better yet, 10. Have them identity tested for trace levels of anitibotics or steroids. When the chromatogram or spectra can’t even identify a peak in the trace/impurity level of the analysis, then somehow explain this to those you write. We can’t find any in the meat…..but it must be there?????