The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has revealed new detail about how antibiotics are used in animal agriculture, an issue of growing controversy in food policy and public health circles. According to FDA, approximately 74 percent of antibiotics given to food animals are administered sub-therapeutically through feed and another 16 percent through water. Only three percent of antibiotics are administered through injections.

In a letter late last week, FDA released this breakdown for the first time to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist serving in Congress, who has taken the lead on curbing the use of antibiotics in agriculture to slow growing antibiotic resistance.

“These statistics tell the tale of an industry that is rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals,” said Slaughter in a statement Friday. “As they feed antibiotics to animals to keep them healthy, they are making our families sicker by spreading these deadly strains of bacteria. When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without worrying that eating it will expose our family to potentially deadly bacteria no longer responsive to medical treatments.”
The FDA also confirmed in its report that 80 percent of antibiotics are sold for use in agriculture in the letter, a revelation made public by Slaughter’s office in February. Previous estimates ranged from 40 to 70 percent.
Slaughter says the new figures indicate the need for action. “These new numbers make it clear that we need to take common sense steps to reduce the needless use of antibiotics in healthy animals, and protect human beings,” she said in February.
Rep. Slaughter recently reintroduced her bill, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (PAMTA), which is “designed to ensure that we preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics for the treatment of human disease,” again this year. She first introduced the bill in 2007.