December 26, 2018
FDA data shows declining US sales of antibiotics used for livestock
The number of critically important antibiotics sold for use in food-producing livestock in the US is dropping, based on recent data released by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
According to a FDA report, medically important antibiotics that are used for livestock decreased 33% in US sales and distribution from 2016 through 2017. Sales and distribution dropped by 43% since sales peaked in 2015. In addition, sales dipped by 28% since the FDA began gathering and reporting data in 2009.
These trends pleased FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb as they showed the organisation's "ongoing efforts to support antimicrobial stewardship" is "having a significant impact," he said in a statement.
The most obvious development can be seen in the sales of antibiotics for growth promotion. Sales fell to zero kilogrammes in 2017, from 5.7 million kilogrammes in 2016. Another drastic decline was reported for over-the-counter sales - from eight million kilogrammes in 2016 to 271,280 kilogrammes in 2017.
Sales drop were also recorded for most medically important drug classes sold for use in food-producing livestock. Tetracyclines, which takes up close to two thirds of all such antibiotics sold, plunged 40% compared with 2016. As for aminoglycosides, penicillins and macrolides, sales of those antibiotics dropped by 19%, 18% and 15%, respectively.
However, not all antibiotics are experiencing declining sales; the sales of fluoroquinolone antibiotics increased by 24%.
As for food-animal groups, chickens represent the biggest drop in antibiotic sales. The poultry industry's commitment to raise chickens without medically important antibiotics is also linked to a 47% drop in sales from 2016 to 2017.
Additionally, sales of medically important antibiotics for cows and pigs fell by 35%, while those of turkeys fell by 11%.
Overall, medically important antibiotics account for 51% of the antibiotics sold for use on food animals. The other 49% are antibiotics that aren't used in human medicine.
The latest sales trends of antibiotics demonstrated that the FDA's guidance managed to curb the sales of antibiotics "without an increase in animal health or food safety problems," Gail Hansen, a public health and animal medicine consultant, told CIDRAP News.
On the other hand, the beef and pork industries continue to be high users of antibiotcs, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) said. Both sectors accounted for 2.3 million and two million kilogrammes of antibiotics sold last year, compared to 268,000 kilogramme in poultry.
"We are seeing real progress, but the American meat industry continues to have a drug problem and the clock is ticking to solve it," NRDC senior attorney Avinash Kar said in a press release. "Far more antibiotics important to humans still go to cows and pigs - usually when they're not sick - than to people, putting the health of every single one of us in jeopardy."
The issue of antibiotic use in livestock remains a problem that the World Health Organization seeks an end to. Indeed, the FDA could do more to cut this dependency on such drugs, Matthew Wellington, antibiotics programme director for the US PIRG (Public Interest Research Group) Education Fund, commented.
"The FDA should implement ambitious reduction targets for antibiotic use in the meat industry, and ensure that these medicines are used to treat sick animals or control a verified disease outbreak, not for routine disease prevention," Wellington said in a statement.
Furthermore, the FDA has not indicated any reduction targets that would be implemented to control usage.
However, Gottlieb noted that the agency's Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM) is planning further action. A 5-year CVM plan to bring the remaining 5% of medically important antibiotics used in livestock under veterinary oversight was already released in September this year. It would also improve data on antibiotic sales, use and resistance in food animals, as well as promoting the development of alternative therapies for sick animals.
"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," Gottlieb said.