2016 Shows First Decline In Antibiotics Sales For Livestock, Following Numerous Commitments From Restaurants And Food Companies

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG


Washington, D.C. – Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its annual report of antibiotics sales for livestock and poultry, showing the first decline in year-to-year sales since recording began. Overall, sales of medically important antibiotics to food animals decreased by 14 percent from 2015 through 2016. 

The downturn comes after numerous commitments by major food companies to eliminate routine antibiotic use from their meat supplies.

“Actions speak louder than words, and the most action we’ve seen on antibiotics has come from food companies. It’s no coincidence that now we’re seeing a slight downturn in sales, and we’re cheering this good news,” said Matthew Wellington, U.S. PIRG Antibiotics Program Director. “But we’ll need much steeper reductions in the coming years if we’re going to keep antibiotics working to heal sick people.”

This year’s report is also the first to break down sales of medically important antibiotics by species. The data show significant differences among chicken, swine and cattle, with chicken accounting for only 6 percent of medically important antibiotic sales, compared to swine at 37 percent, and cattle at 43 percent.

Many of the commitments in the food industry have been for chicken. McDonald’s, KFC, Chick-fil-A and more have said no to producers that routinely use antibiotics on chicken. According to the most recent Chain Reaction scorecard, more than half of the top 25 restaurant chains now have commitments to phase routine antibiotic use out of their chicken supplies. Further, chicken producers such as Perdue, Tyson Foods, Foster Farms and others have made, or are in the process of making, wholesale reductions in antibiotic usage.

“Beef and pork have been tougher nuts to crack, so to speak, and the sales numbers reinforce this problem,” said Wellington. “Subway, Panera Bread, Niman Ranch and Applegate are moving away from all meat raised with routine antibiotic use, but we need more. If more major restaurants, such as McDonald’s, commit to only purchase beef and pork raised without misusing antibiotics, we can make a dent in the amount of antibiotics sold for livestock.”

New state laws are not yet affecting the data. California and Maryland have passed laws that restrict the routine use of antibiotics on animals raised in those states, but those laws were not implemented in time to affect the 2016 FDA data.

Driving the changes at the industry level and state level are cold, hard numbers, such as those from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2013, the CDC conservatively estimated that at least 2 million Americans are sickened by antibiotic-resistant bacteria annually, and 23,000 die as a result. Without swift action, those numbers are expected to dramatically rise, with drug-resistant infections potentially killing more people worldwide in 2050 than cancer kills today.

“More states are going to follow the lead of California and Maryland,” said Wellington. “Given what’s at stake, it’s the clearest path forward, and as more states and food companies take action, we should see sales of antibiotics decrease. And eventually the FDA, which has not gone as far as California and Maryland, or Panera Bread and Subway, will prohibit the routine use of our life-saving medicines in the meat industry.”


U.S. PIRG is a federation of state-based consumer groups that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. For decades, we’ve stood up for consumers, countering the influence of big banks, insurers, chemical manufacturers and other powerful special interests.