WASHINGTON, Dec. 10, 2015 - An annual report from the Food and Drug Administration shows that sales and distribution of antibiotics for use in food animals is continuing an upward trend.

In the report, the FDA presents aggregated sales and distribution data for antimicrobial drugs approved for use in food-producing animals during the 2014 calendar year. According to the findings, 2014 domestic sales and distribution of such drugs increased 4 percent over 2013 and were up 22 percent from 2009.

Figures for 2014 domestic sales and distribution of antimicrobials that are medically important to humans but also approved for use in food-producing animals increased 3 percent in 2014, but rose 23 percent between 2009 and 2014. The report also states that such drugs accounted for 62 percent of domestic sales of all antimicrobials approved for use in food-producing animals.

A statement from the Animal Health Institute called the report “a small part of the story about the public health impact of antibiotics used to keep food animals healthy,” pointing out that “sales data does not represent actual use.”

“It is also important to note that significant progress continues in the effort to implement FDA’s judicious use policy, designed to eliminate the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and place all remaining uses under veterinary oversight,” the group said. “When fully implemented one year from now, medically important antibiotics will be used in food animals only to fight disease under the supervision of a veterinarian.”

Avinash Kar, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement that the “dangerous overuse” of antibiotics in agriculture has been on the rise for several years, “putting the effectiveness of our lifesaving drugs in jeopardy for people when they get sick.” Kar called on FDA to “outlaw routine use of antibiotics on animals that are not sick in meat production nationwide.

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“If we want to keep our antibiotics working for people when we need them, the agency must take urgent action.”

In its report, the FDA cautioned that there are “certain inherent limitations” on how data on increased antibiotic sales “may be appropriately interpreted and used.” The report clarifies that the sales and distribution data “are not indicative of how these antimicrobial drugs were actually used in animals” and that the figures represent products “intended for sale to the end user, not the volume of product ultimately purchased by the end user for administration to animals.” Because of such variables, the report said, “assumptions cannot be made about actual product use.” 

In June, the FDA published an updated Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) that went into effect at the beginning of October. The updated VFD calls for greater veterinary oversight and addresses medically important antibiotics used in growth promotion.


Story updated at 10:05 p.m. to include additional reaction. 
A previous version of this story miscategorized the VFD. The story has been updated to correct the error.