New Troubling News on Antibiotic Overuse

Media Contacts
Matt Wellington

Former Director, Public Health Campaigns, PIRG

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


WASHINGTON, DC: 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. It reinforces that the FDA’s current voluntary, half measures aimed at stopping the misuse of antibiotics just won’t cut it,” said Matt Wellington, public health advocate for U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG). “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 make animals grow faster and to prevent disease that can be common in 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 for a slightly cheaper burger,” said Wellington. “The FDA needs to kick it into gear and limit the use of antibiotics to treat sick animals, not for growth promotion or routine, prophylactic disease prevention. We have a major beef with the current FDA voluntary guidelines.”

Although Guidance 209 and 213 from the FDA are not set to be fully implemented until the end of 2016, the upward trend of medically-important antibiotics sold for use in food-producing animals strongly suggests that the voluntary 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. The agency 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 Wellington. “Clearly we need a strong policy to capture all the industry players not affected by consumer trends.”


U.S. PIRG is a consumer group 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.