Troubling News on Antibiotic Overuse

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

FDA Report: Sales of Medically Important Antibiotics for Livestock Continue to Rise For Immediate Release

Maryland PIRG

Baltimore, MD: Today, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released the latest numbers showing that the sale of medically-important antibiotics for livestock and poultry continued to rise last year. The data show a two percent increase in sales between 2014 and 2015.

“This is a troubling trend,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr “The rampant overuse of medically-important antibiotics in the meat industry is helping to fuel a serious public health crisis. We need to ban the routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick.”

The routine use of antibiotics on otherwise healthy animals is a common practice in the meat industry. It’s meant to prevent disease that can be common in cramped and unsanitary conditions. Public health experts, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to the American Academy of Pediatrics, warn that the routine use of antibiotics on livestock and poultry fuels the spread of drug-resistant bacteria.

Already, the CDC estimates that antibiotic resistant infections sicken at least 2 million Americans each year, and at least 23,000 die as a result.

“We simply cannot afford to lose the foundations of modern medicine,” said Scarr. “The FDA’s current measures aimed at stopping the misuse of antibiotics do not do enough to reduce the use of antibiotics for disease prevention. In the absence of strong federal action, states, like Maryland, needs to step in to protect public health.”

Although Guidance 209 and 213 from the FDA are not set to be fully implemented until the end of 2016, they don’t fully address the misuse of antibiotics on industrial farms, and the upward trend of medically-important antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals strongly suggests that the guidelines will not adequately reduce the use of antibiotics in agriculture.  

The private marketplace is outpacing the federal agency charged with protecting public health. Major restaurants like McDonald’s, Subway, Chick-fil-A, Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Chipotle, Panera Bread, Noodles & Co., and many more have gone further than the FDA by phasing out routine antibiotic use from their supply chains. California has passed a law to ban the routine use of antibiotics on industrial farms, and Oregon and Maryland have considiered similiar measures, States and the FDA should move to ban the routine use of antibiotics on livestock and poultry for both growth promotion and disease prevention.

“What’s most troubling about the numbers is that despite consumer and marketplace changes for the better, the sale of antibiotics for livestock and poultry keeps rising,” said Scarr. “The pharmacuitical industry is making hand over fist selling our life saving medicines to industrial farms, and it’s putting our healthcare system in crisis”