The U.S. Food and Drug Administration for the first time released an estimate on the amount of antibiotics sold for use in domestic food animal production, a move that comes as the agency aims to curb the growth in antibiotic resistance.

The agency estimates that, in 2009, there were just shy of 29 million pounds sold for use in animal agriculture.

“That’s a lot,” as Maryn McKenna, infectious disease journalist and author of “Superbug,” put it on her blog for Wired magazine last week. But, Mckenna notes, it’s not necessarily more or less than was expected, in part because the current estimates vary so wildly.

Though the debate over routinely feeding antibiotics to food animals has grown louder–and has been featured more in the mainstream media–the report was released with no fanfare and has been widely ignored by most news organizations.

McKenna broke the news on her blog, aptly titled ‘Superbug.’

“The reason why antibiotic use on farms is a concern,” says McKenna. “[I]s because such use stimulates the emergence of drug-resistant organisms that move off the farm in animals, in groundwater, in dust, on the wind and in the systems and on the clothes of those who work there, and makes new resistance factors available to be swapped among bacteria.”

Out of these concerns–which have been raised by a variety of consumer, science, and public health groups–leadership at FDA has indicated that the agency will take a serious look at ways to curb resistance by looking at the overuse of antibiotics–in both animal agriculture and human medicine.

“Because more use of antimicrobials is, in general, associated with greater levels of resistance, these data will supplement the FDA’s ongoing activities in antimicrobial resistance prevention,” the FDA reported.  “It also reinforces a recent agency draft guidance on the judicious use of certain antimicrobials in food-producing animals.”

The agency released a draft guidance on judicious use in animal agriculture in June “intended to help reduce the development of resistance to medically important antimicrobial drugs” that are still used widely in food animal production to ward off disease and promote growth.

The document states that the overall weight of evidence supports “the conclusion that using medically important antimicrobial drugs for production or growth enhancing purposes (i.e., non-therapeutic or subtherapeutic uses) in food-producing animals is not in the interest of protecting and promoting the public health.”

The animal health industry has long maintained that antibiotics are a critical tool for animal health and that any move to limit use should be based on science.

“For more than 40 years, antibiotics approved by the Food and Drug Administration have been used to treat sick animals, prevent illness and maintain the health of animals,” the Animal Health Institute, a veterinary industry group, states on its website.  “Livestock and poultry producers rely on these products so they can provide U.S. consumers with the safest food possible.”

  • kelly

    The only reason these animals have to be given these drugs is due to the food they are forced to eat and cannot digest. Cows do not eat corn/soy, it makes them incredibly sick, (only able to survive CAFO’s for 3 months!!) it causes E.coli to grow in the gut, a bug that could be reduced, if NOT ELIMINATED if they were fed a food they eat;HAY. Monsanto has taken over the fields where cows roamed to grow a food that is not food, to feed to cows, which they do not eat AND MAKES THEM SICK. The FDA is a sham and a failure run and operated by the Dept of Agriculture. They monitor themselves.The other problem with the Dept of Ag is they are now planning to move PLUM ISLAND into the heart of cattle country and our nations food supply. If you think we have problems now, just wait until they put a bio weapons program in our food supply. Studies have already shown there will be a 70% chance of outbreak and it will cost the tax payer over 50 billion to fix…..the Dept of Ag and the FDA, EPA and every other acronym that is destroying us needs to be shut down

  • rick

    The FDA needs to be shut down with a REVOLUTION! Only by force , the US congress has sold out the American people for $. To Arms!