Massive Use of Antibiotics in Animal Feed Threatens Public Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE JANUARY 8, 2001 11:44 AM

CONTACT: Union of Concerned Scientists
Margaret Mellon or Paul Fain 202 223-6133

70 Percent of All Antibiotics Given to Healthy Livestock

Excessive use of antibiotics by meat producers, 8 times more
than in human medicine, contributes to alarming increase in
antibiotic resistance

WASHINGTON - January 8 - Every year in the United States 25
million pounds of valuable antibiotics -- roughly 70 percent
of total US antibiotic production -- are fed to chickens,
pigs, and cows for nontherapeutic purposes like growth
promotion, according to a new report from the Union of
Concerned Scientists. This finding -- 50 percent greater
than the estimate of the livestock industry for all animal
uses -- is the first transparent estimate of the quantities
of antibiotics used in meat production.

The report is also the first to show that the quantities of
antibiotics used in animal agriculture dwarf those used in
human medicine. Nontherapeutic livestock use in chickens,
pigs, and cows accounts for 8 times more antibiotics than
human medicine, which is using only 3 million pounds per
year.

"The meat industry's share of the antibiotic-resistance
problem has been ignored for too long," said Dr. Margaret
Mellon, Director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS
and co-author of the new report. "Antibiotics are a precious
resource and should be used in animals only when necessary."

Until now, health officials and citizens had to rely on
incomplete industry estimates to design effective responses
to the antibiotic-resistance problem. According to the new
UCS report, "Hogging It: Estimates of Antimicrobial Abuse in
Livestock," the total use of antibiotics in healthy
livestock has climbed from 16 million pounds in the
mid-1980s to 25 million pounds today. Of that, approximately
10 million pounds are used in hogs, 11 million pounds in
poultry, and 4 million pounds in cattle.

"The excessive use of antibiotics by the livestock industry
is sobering," said Dr. Charles Benbrook, an independent
economist and co-author of the report. "Feeding antibiotics
to animals from birth to slaughter may modestly improve meat
industry profits, but it puts everyone's health at risk. It
is time to rethink how pigs, cattle and poultry are raised
in the United States."

Available industry data appear to underestimate the usage of
antibiotics and are far too general to help scientists
explore the linkages between drug use in livestock and the
spread of resistance. With no government-backed data
available, the authors of the report devised a methodology
for calculating antibiotic use in livestock operations from
publicly available information, including herd size,
approved drug lists, and dosages. The researchers
acknowledge the need for more complete, up-to-date data on
livestock antibiotic use. They invite the pharmaceutical
industry, which holds the production data, and the animal
livestock industry, which could compile usage information,
to bring better data to the public arena. But new data must
be transparent and verifiable.

"The public has been flying blind," said Mellon. "The
government should act now to collect the needed data. The
price of complacency could set us back to an era where
untreatable infectious diseases are regrettably
commonplace."

UCS recommends that the Food and Drug Administration
establish a system to compel companies that sell antibiotics
for livestock use to provide annual reports on the quantity
of these drugs sold. The US Department of Agriculture should
improve the completeness and accuracy of its periodic
surveys of antibiotic use in livestock. The FDA, USDA, and
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should speed up
implementation of its government-wide action plan, which
calls for the establishment of monitoring systems and the
assessment of ways to collect and protect the
confidentiality of usage data.

The FDA, which oversees the approval and cancellation of
veterinary drugs, will discuss the use of antimicrobial
drugs in food animals at a public meeting, January 22-24.

A full copy of the new report can be found on the web at
www.ucsusa.org. The Union of Concerned Scientists is a
nonprofit alliance of thousands of committed citizens and
leading scientists working to preserve our health, protect
our safety and enhance our quality of life. UCS has used
rigorous scientific analysis, innovative policy development,
and effective citizen advocacy to achieve practical
environmental solutions.

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