New FDA antibiotic sales data: What’s its relevance to reducing antibiotic resistance?

January 8, 2018

The Food and Drug Administration recently released its annual animal agriculture antibiotic sales report and the numbers reflect a 10-percent drop in overall antibiotic sales for livestock and poultry and a 14-percent decrease in the sale of medically important antibiotics (those used in both humans and animals).

A question many people may ask is, “What does this report mean in the battle against antibiotic resistance?”

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern and the animal health community shares that concern. We recognize that animal antibiotics must be used responsibly to minimize animal agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance. But the volume of antibiotics sold in animal agriculture has little relevance to reducing antibiotic resistance in humans.

Although the latest report shows a reduction, we need to keep our focus on using antibiotics responsibly. Our goal shouldn’t be to simply chase reductions in use, but rather, to ensure the antibiotics we need to use to keep animals healthy and our food supply safe are not compromising the effectiveness of the antibiotics we most critically need to treat bacterial infections in humans.

And, the trend is encouraging.

Recent data from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System shows that resistance rates in people for pathogens that might transfer from animals to humans have been stable or declining. Over the 20-year life of the program, salmonella resistance in humans has steadily declined.

Instead of getting immersed in how much antibiotics are sold, we should concentrate on the volume of antibiotics we need.

Keep in mind, many uncontrollable factors affect the amount sold. Increased U.S. meat exports, for example, means there would likely be more animals overall which could result in the need for more animal treatment. A disease outbreak could mean more infections in animals that could result in the need for increased veterinary attention.

In agriculture, a good rule of thumb is to use less while preserving the ability to responsibly use antibiotics when needed. We must be careful not to sacrifice good animal care or food safety so we can say we reduced use.

It’s important to note that the FDA’s report contains sales data from 2016 and does not reflect changes in FDA guidance that took effect this year. Antibiotics important to human medicine may now only be used for disease prevention, control and treatment, not growth promotion. In addition, before using medically important antibiotics in feed or water, farmers must obtain written authorization from their veterinarian. Phibro supports these changes and helped make them a reality.

The FDA cautions against comparing this data with information about the use of antibiotics in humans. For example, there are around 320 million humans in the U.S. compared to the 9 billion chickens that enter the food supply every year. Differences in physical characteristics is also something to keep in mind. The average human adult weighs around 180 pounds compared to 1,300-pound cattle. The needs of each are quite different.

We all recognize the importance of reducing antibiotic resistance rates in humans. But focusing only on reducing the amount of antibiotics sold could result in more animal disease and death, potentially compromising the quality and safety of our food while doing nothing to reduce resistance in humans.

Beyond playing a key role in animal care, the animal health community is dedicated to ensuring a safe food supply and protecting public health, including through the careful and responsible use of antibiotics.

I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.