- A new report from the Food and Drug Administration found domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials used in food-producing animals dropped 33% between 2016 and 2017.
- The agency noted the sales data doesn't necessarily reflect actual antimicrobial use because veterinarians and producers may buy the drugs and not give them to animals, or they may administer the drugs in later years. Still, the reduction indicates "efforts to support antimicrobial stewardship are having a significant impact," the FDA said.
- Peter G. Lurie, president of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said in a statement the report shows changes in antibiotic regulations have had "striking results," but the group said FDA still needs to publish figures accounting for animal weight.
Sales of medically important antimicrobials used in food-producing animals have dropped since the FDA decided to ban the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and restrict over-the-counter use. The ban went into full effect in 2017. According to the findings, the largest decrease in 2017 antimicrobials in terms of weight was in those for chicken — which dropped 47% compared to 2016. The largest overall amount of sales was for cattle and swine.
Sales of antibiotic-free meat have been growing, providing a strong incentive for the industry to reduce usage. It increased nearly 29% each year from 2011 to 2015, compared to about 5% for conventionally raised meat, according to Nielsen. And sales of no-antibiotics-ever meat jumped 45% from 2016 to 2017, compared to 10% for conventional meat.
Meat companies have been paying close attention to these increasing consumer trends and have adjusted their practices in response. Tyson, JBS, Pilgrim’s Pride, Cargill and Perdue Farms have taken major steps to eliminate routine antibiotic use in order to keep their customers, who have more options than ever of shifting to a variety of plant-based protein sources. Even Sanderson Farms, which prided itself on its strident pro-antibiotic stance, announced last month it is phasing out routine use of antibiotics considered medically important for human disease prevention.
The FDA's Center for Veterinary Medicine intends to take additional steps over the next five years to combat antimicrobial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics. It plans to apply a risk-based approach to evaluate new and currently approved antimicrobial products for animals. Also, FDA will continue collaborating with key stakeholders and help collect data on resistance and antimicrobial use to monitor the effectiveness of its action plan.
"While I’m very pleased with the results of the report, and the efforts by all of our stakeholders thus far to improve antimicrobial stewardship, our work isn't yet done when it comes to fighting antimicrobial resistance," Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement.
A group of major food companies, retailers, livestock producers and trade and professional associations recently announced a comprehensive framework to strengthen stewardship of antibiotic use in food animals. It's the result of two years of discussion among stakeholders, moderated by the Farm Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, to make sure antibiotics are judiciously used throughout production to protect animal and public health.
Those agreeing to the framework include Elanco Animal Health, Hormel Foods, Jennie-O Turkey Store, McDonald’s Corporation, National Milk Producers Federation, National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation, Smithfield Foods, Tyson Foods, Walmart and Zoetis. They agreed that medically important antibiotics must be carefully managed to slow the emergence of resistant bacteria and preserve the effectiveness of these drugs.
"There is a broad consensus across the food animal industry that we must continue to drive and demonstrate antibiotic stewardship in animal agriculture," Joe Swedberg, chairman of the board of the Farm Foundation, said in a release. "This framework is about stakeholders coming together to do the right thing and communicate their commitment to antibiotic stewardship, with a transparent and meaningful approach."
Protein companies have a lot to gain by getting a handle on the problem of antibiotic overuse. Consumers want to see fewer antibiotics in their meat, dairy and eggs, and they are more likely to trust and support producers who show a commitment to conserving medically important drugs. Pathogens, such as E. coli, are also showing resistance to certain antimicrobials, which could be another important reason to emphasize this antibiotic stewardship approach.