- New research from the food and farming alliance Sustain finds that farm antibiotic use per animal in the U.S. is twice as high as it is in the U.K., according to Food Ingredients First.
- Total U.S. sales of antibiotics for use in animals increased 26% from 2009 to 2015, according to the Food and Drug Administration. Conversely, the U.K. government recently reported a 27% drop in its use of antibiotics in animals over the last two years.
- This focus on antibiotic use comes as the U.S. and U.K. governments come together to discuss possible trade policy.
As the U.S. and U.K. enter trade talks that could offer a significant opportunity for American farmers to export meat and poultry, the topic of antibiotic use has been front and center. There is concern that exposure to antibiotics in food may lead to resistance in humans when the same drugs are used.
The U.K.’s government has taken an active role in the fight against antimicrobial resistance to drugs. The poultry industry there has successfully reduced antibiotic use by 44% from 2012 to 2015, and now total sales of antibiotics for animals has dropped a further 27% in the last two years. Producers there have focused on what causes the need for antibiotic use in animals, not just the application of the medicine.
The U.K.’s attitude toward antibiotic use in farm animals may be indicative of the future of U.S. markets. In the last couple of years, major poultry producers including Tyson Foods, Pilgrim's Pride and Perdue have all committed to reducing or removing antibiotics from their chicken supply. More producers are likely to modify their policies as time goes on.
Conversely, one U.S. poultry processor is publicly standing by its use of antibiotics. Sanderson Farms has bucked the poultry industry’s “no antibiotics” trend by repeatedly advertising why the company uses them. Sanderson Farms has argued the threat of antibiotic resistance is overblown.
Sustain’s report does not include the inherent cost in modifying these systems, or resulting price increases for meat and poultry, but they are undoubtedly affecting producers and consumers alike. In addition, there is no mention of any spike in animal deaths as a result of cutting back on antibiotic use.
It’s unlikely that antibiotic-free will become the new standard in the U.S. in the foreseeable future, since there is still a significant segment of consumers who want cheaper poultry and meat options. Antibiotic-free options are often more expensive than their conventionally raised counterparts. Until antibiotic-free options come down in cost, the U.S. standard is not likely to change.