In a letter to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, (D-NY), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has reported that the bulk of antibiotics given to animals are distributed through medicated feed. According to the letter, 74 percent of antibiotics given to farm animals are sold for use via feed. Another 16 percent are disseminated via water, and only 3 percent were sold for used via injection.

The FDA went on to confirm in its report to Slaughter that 80 percent of antibiotics are sold for use in agriculture. This is the first time the FDA made these statistics public in an official report, according to a news release on Slaughter’s website.

“The quote, ‘80 percent of antibiotics sold are for use in agriculture,’ is misleading considering there are billions more farm animals than people and pets,” says Liz Wagstrom, DVM, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council. “On a per pound basis, people and their pets use 10 times more antibiotics than farm animals. The 80 percent figure is just an estimate since FDA does not collect data on antibiotics sold for human medicine.”

According to Slaughter, the letter verifies a “troubling new statistic with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration: a method of dispensation that has been linked to the rise of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. “This process results in inconsistent drug dosing, and can lead to antibiotic resistance among bacteria not eliminated by low doses of drugs.”

NPPC refutes Slaughter’s claim. “There is no evidence of inconsistency. Feed mill mixing equipment is designed to add antibiotics, and other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals, in the proper amounts, and FDA inspects feed mills,” says Wagstrom.

Since 2007, Slaughter has backed legislation titled, ‘The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act’, or PAMTA, designed to limit the use of antibiotics in livestock for growth promotion and disease prevention.

“These statistics tell the tale of an industry that is rampantly misusing antibiotics in an attempt to cover up filthy, unsanitary living conditions among animals,” said Slaughter. “As they feed antibiotics to animals to keep them healthy, they are making our families sicker by spreading these deadly strains of bacteria.”

FDA-approved antibiotics are used responsibly and judiciously by pork producers under the supervision of a veterinarian, according to Wagstrom. “Most hogs are raised in biosecure, temperature-controlled barns that protect them from parasites and diseases and that reduces the need for antibiotics. Barns are cleaned and disinfected after each lot or group of hogs is sent to market.”

“When we go to the grocery store to pick up dinner, we should be able to buy our food without worrying that eating it will expose our family to potentially deadly bacteria no longer responsive to medical treatments," said Slaughter.

“We know that the widespread use of antibiotics on healthy animals is contributing to the growth of bacteria resistance to the drugs we use to treat humans,” according to Slaughter. “This poses particular risk to seniors and children. These new numbers make it clear that we need to take common sense steps to reduce the needless use of antibiotics in healthy animals, and protect human beings.”

According to Wagstrom, “there are several scientific risk assessments showing virtually no risk to public health from antibiotic use in livestock.” 

The pork industry’s ‘Take Care – Use Antibiotics Responsibly’ program, developed by the National Pork Board, has three main goals for pork producers:

1. To educate producers about the responsible use of antibiotics.

2. To raise producers’ awareness of the importance of using antibiotics responsibly and the impact of this on animal and public health.

3. To demonstrate to customers and consumers, pork producers’ commitment to preserving public health, animal health and animal well-being through the responsible use of antibiotics.

Read more on NPB’s ‘Take Care – Use Antibiotics Responsibly’ program.