Livestock and Antibiotics Ups and Downs


Preventing overuse of antibiotics in livestock, and subsequent human and animal-related health problems, is an issue that we fully support. Perdue’s late-summer announcement to stop using antibiotics in its chicken hatcheries was an inspiring moment that let us see how much consumer advocacy can change our food system.

However, there is still a lot more for us to do!

The FDA recently released data showing a 16% increase in the sales of antibiotics for livestock between 2009 and 2012. David Hoffman and Emma Schwartz on PBS Frontline explain that the FDA data was gathered from pharmaceutical companies who do not disclose how each specific drug is used, and only give distribution and sales data. Despite that complicating factor, it is clear that increased antibiotic use for livestock is forcing us to increase human use of antibiotics for treating infections in cases where the patient has developed a tolerance to certain drugs by eating meat from livestock exposed to antibiotics. Hoffman and Schwartz explain:  

The new report shows that by far the largest class of antibiotics given to farm animals — about two-thirds of the total — are tetracyclines. While not widely used in humans, doctors do prescribe them to treat certain conditions like acne. The sales and distribution of tetracyclines increased by 13 percent in 2012, the agency reported.

The report also shows a surge in the use of another class of antibiotics, cephalosporins, which are more widely prescribed for human use, for example to treat severe salmonella poisoning in children and pregnant women. Cephalosporins sales rose 37 percent between 2009 and 2012, according to FDA’s new data."

Despite this disappointing news, we ran across hope worth sharing. California Governor Jerry Brown recently vetoed a bill that would have set limits on the use of antibiotics for livestock in the state because the bill’s provisos were too weak. Chuck Abbot of Food and Environment Reporting Network explains that the bill would have allowed producers to continue to use antibiotics under the guise of “disease prevention,” enacting little substantive change—and it was a law extremely similar to new FDA guidelines. Abbot gives a hopeful message about the implications of this bill:

As the largest agricultural state, California is poised to set a national trend in antibiotic use. Control of antibiotic resistance in bacteria is “a top national security and public health priority,” the White House said in a September 18 executive order that spelled out a five-year action plan to curb antibiotic resistance."

If you want to see more action like Governor Brown’s head on over to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s Take Action page to write a letter to US Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, demanding that he do more to prevent salmonella poisoning in the supermarket.


Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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