Federal data released Thursday show that sales of medically important antimicrobials used in food-producing animals in the U.S. increased by 8 percent in 2012 and by 16 percent between 2009 and 2012. The Food and Drug Administration’s 2012 Summary Report of the information animal drug sponsors are required to report every year states that, compared to antimicrobials that are not currently medically important (NCMI), medically important drugs accounted for 61 percent of sales. Breaking that number down, tetracyclines accounted for 67 percent, penicillins for 11 percent, macrolides for 7 percent, sulfonamides for 6 percent, aminoglycosides for 3 percent, lincosamides for 2 percent, and cephalosporins for fewer than 1 percent. Ninety-seven percent of these drugs were sold over-the-counter, and feed was the most common means of administration. Sales and distribution for NCMI antimicrobials also increased over the 2009-12 time period. Eighty percent of those sold and distributed in 2012 were ionosphores. When comparing the labels for medically important antimicrobials, 68 percent of those sold and distributed in 2012 were labeled solely for production indications (growth promotion), or for both production and therapeutic indications. Public health advocates expressed their concern about the overall increase in sales, emphasizing that overuse of antibiotics on farms leads to an increase in antibiotic-resistant pathogens that affect humans. “This report confirms existing concerns about antibiotics in food animal production,” said Keeve Nachman, director of the food production and public health program at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “The vast majority of antibiotics used in animal agriculture are important in human medicine, and most of them are being fed to animals that aren’t sick.” “FDA’s own figures show that the agency’s inaction is making the problem worse,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the only microbiologist in Congress and the author of legislation to stop the overuse of antibiotics on the farm. “Until the FDA enacts a mandatory regulation that puts human health before industry profits, Americans will continue to live under an increased threat of untreatable infection.” Laura Rogers, director of Pew’s Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming, said that the information raises “serious concerns.” The sales of cephalosporins are particularly concerning, she said. “In January 2012, FDA banned the extralabel use of cephalosporins in food animals to preserve their effectiveness for treating sick people, yet the sales of those drugs still rose that year,” Rogers said. “We’ll need to see if that trend continues, but, at this point, it’s concerning that FDA’s policy doesn’t appear to have had a more immediate impact.” A positive aspect of the new report is that it contains more details about the data, which Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and others applauded. In addition to the breakdowns by drug class and domestic sales or exports, FDA has also provided the importance of each drug class to human medicine, data on how the drugs are administered, whether they’re available over the counter or need veterinary oversight, and their approved uses. The agency has also updated the 2009-2011 reports to include these data tables. While sales and distribution data can still be very useful for shaping policy, it’s not necessarily showing how farmers use the drugs “on the ground,” so public health stakeholders still want to see information about use by species and the actual purposes of administration. “FDA even acknowledges the limitations of the data and has said for years that it wants to find ways to collect that data, but still has not announced how or when it will start to do this,” Rogers said. “Despite the improved presentation of data in this report, there is still a stunning gap between what the agency collects and what it allows scientists to know,” Nachman said. “These gaps are a major roadblock in evaluating FDA’s approach to dealing with a global health crisis.” FDA’s Guidance #213 calls for animal drug sponsors to remove uses related to growth promotion from their product labels and bring the remaining therapeutic uses under the oversight of a veterinarian. As of June 2014, all 26 affected sponsors agreed to engage in the strategy. Once the changes are implemented, FDA says it plans to examine data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), antimicrobial sales and distribution information, and “information about on-farm use of antimicrobial drugs” to measure “the ultimate goal of reducing antimicrobial resistance.”