Seven years after the federal government created a National Action Plan to fight antibiotic resistance, FDA data shows significant increases occurred in the systems that produce Americans’ meats.

even years after the federal government created a National Action Plan to fight antibiotic resistance, sales of medically important antibiotics in animal agriculture are still trending in the wrong direction.

Rather than a steady decline year over year, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data released yesterday shows that while overall antibiotic sales for livestock decreased about 1 percent across the board in 2021 compared to 2020, significant increases occurred in the systems that produce Americans’ favorite meats.

Globally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has pointed to antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest existing threats to public health and food security, and in the U.S., antibiotic-resistant bacteria cause about 2.8 million infections and 35,000 deaths annually. Animal agriculture is key to addressing the problem, since the industry uses far more antibiotics than human healthcare does.

“It’s just another nail in the coffin of a failed FDA approach to stewardship of antibiotics in the livestock sector,” said David Wallinga, a senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) who has been closely tracking the issue for years. “Every data point underscores how clearly it has failed, especially since 2017.”

After a peak in 2016, regulatory changes and a consumer-driven shift away from the use of medically important antibiotics in chicken production led to a 28 percent drop in livestock antibiotic sales overall, but sales in cattle and pork have mostly stayed steady or increased slightly since (aside from a slight drop between 2019 and 2020). Somewhat surprisingly, this year’s data shows antibiotic sales for use in chicken shot up 12 percent, while sales for cattle were up 1 percent and sales for pork were up 3 percent.

But Wallinga said chicken is not the issue, given the differences in volume. For example, nearly 2.5 million kilograms (kg) of antibiotics were sold for use in cattle, compared to about 158,000 kg for chicken. And the bigger uptick in chicken only resulted in an increase in 17,000 kg, compared to an increase of 78,000 kg in pork. Plus, he said, the problem is rooted in the overall volume.

“If you’re looking across food production as a whole, that’s what really matters,” he said. “Overall numbers are what drive selection for resistant bacteria.”

In the past, industry officials have attributed increases in sales data to increases in the number and size of animals produced. But data from 2021 shows production of both pork and chicken actually went down in 2021 compared to the previous year, suggesting that more antibiotics were sold for use in fewer animals.

That squares with an NRDC issue brief published last month. In it, Wallinga and his team found that in 2020, the U.S. rate of antibiotic use was nearly twice as high as the overall rate reported in the European Union. And between 2017 and 2020, intensity of use went up in cattle, pig, and turkeys. Only in chicken did it go down.

Europe has also been more successful in reducing overall antibiotic use in animal agriculture, achieving a nearly 43 percent decline in overall sales between 2011 and 2020, compared to 27 percent in the U.S. To follow Europe’s lead, NRDC researchers say that the U.S. should begin more closely tracking antibiotic use on farms and set ambitious, measurable targets to reduce use. And advocates have long pushed for a policy change that would ban the routine use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention in healthy animals, arguing that use should be restricted to disease treatment as it is in most cases in human medicine.

At the end of the day, Wallinga said another development last week points to the fact that the agency is dragging its feet and doesn’t want to “get into these issues.” The Reagan-Udall Foundation released its outside evaluation of the FDA’s food programs, which FDA Commissioner Robert Califf commissioned in July. But despite urging from NRDC and other groups, the evaluation did not include assessing the division within the FDA tasked with monitoring antibiotic use in livestock. “These are food animals, but somehow they’re not part of the food supply?” he asked.

Original source: https://civileats.com