June 29, 2020


More than 40% of critical antibiotics used by US cattle sector, report claims



A report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) claimed that more than 40% of all medically critical antibiotics have been used by US cattle producers.


Released on June 25, the report stated that those antibiotics are also used three to six times more intensively than their counterparts in Europe. The overuse, according to NRDC is a strategy employed by the beef sector to mitigate disease threats in feedlots, where cattle are routinely fed antibiotics -- even if they are not ill.


Furthermore, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in relation to the beef sector's use of critical antibiotics, as well as little effort to deal with the issue.


"The problems with the overuse of antibiotics that are important to people is really sort of ingrained in the industry, and they have the power to change it, but it's going to take leadership, and they haven't been willing to take that on," said report author David Wallinga, MD, a senior health advisor with NRDC.


Based on NRDC's examination of US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data on veterinary antibiotic sales, 42% of all medically important antibiotics sold for use in US livestock operations are for cattle, roughly the amount sold for chicken and pork production combined. The top two antibiotics used in cattle - tetracyclines and macrolides - are mainly administered to cattle herds through their feed and drinking water.


Yet, despite the heavy use of antibiotics, cattle illnesses have increased in the past years, argued Wallinga. He described the beef sector's antibiotic use as "a terrible and dangerous crutch" that does not deal with "underlying problems" concerning inferior animal husbandry and "suboptimal nutrition for the animals."


Veterinary and public health consultant Gail Hansen said that the overuse of antibiotics is a "superficial fix" that becomes less potent in combating diseases and only further strengthens antibiotic resistance.


In defense of the beef sector's antibiotic use, Julia Herman, a beef cattle specialist veterinarian at the National Cattlemen's Beef Association, told CIDRAP NEWS that "sales and distribution data do not represent actual use of antibiotics in food-producing animals." According to Herman, farmers and ranchers "have long practiced the targeted and appropriate use of antibiotics for the cattle under their care." The beef sector is also committed to judicious antibiotic use, which is just one way to treat and prevent animal diseases, Herman said.


While the FDA has been collecting data on veterinary antibiotic sales since 2009, the organisation, along with the USDA, has been urged by critics for years to get more comprehensive data from livestock producers.

However, the US meat industry shows little interest in making such data available, Hansen said.