WASHINGTON, Dec. 22, 2016 - Sales of medically important antibiotics for food-producing animals rose by 2 percent last year and are up 26 percent since 2009, the Food and Drug Administration says in its latest annual report on usage of the drugs.
But the data don't reflect the impact of two pending policy changes designed to limit farm use of the drugs and preserve their viability in human medicine.
FDA is in the process of approving new label changes that will effectively prohibit future usage of such antibiotics for growth promotion, and beginning Jan. 1 all use of medically important antimicrobials will require a veterinarian’s oversight.
According to the FDA data, 97 percent of antibiotics were sold over the counter in 2015, a figure virtually unchanged from 98 percent in 2009, when the sales reporting started.
Sales of drugs approved for production purposes fell from 72 percent in 2014 to 71 percent in 2015, but FDA cautioned that the data also include drugs approved for therapeutic purposes.
Tetracyclines accounted for 71 percent of U.S. sales of medically important antibiotics in 2015, followed by penicillins at 10 percent, macrolides at 6 percent, sulfas and aminoglycosides at 4 percent, lincosamides at 2 percent, and amphenicols, cephalosporins, and fluoroquinolones, all at less than 1 percent.
Tetracycline sales rose by 4 percent in 2015 and have grown by 31 percent since 2009.
In May, the agency finalized a rule that will require companies to begin providing estimates of antibiotic sales broken down by animal species - cattle, hogs, chickens and turkeys.
The Animal Health Institute said that tetracyclines don’t play a big role in human medicine, and the group emphasized that the 2015 data don’t reflect the impact of the new requirement for farmers to get a veterinarian’s approval for antibiotic usage.
“That policy ensures that medically important antibiotics used in food animals will be used only to fight disease under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian,” said the group, which represents drug manufacturers.
The administration came under sharp criticism from consumer advocates for not mandating that companies remove growth promotion from antibiotic labels. The label changes were undertaken voluntarily at FDA’s request, which led to the same result, according to Michael Taylor, who stepped down earlier this year as FDA’s deputy commissioner for foods.
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At the same time, some food companies and restaurant chains are requiring producers to phase out the use of antibiotics. This fall, McDonald’s announced that all of the chicken it is buying now has been raised without the use of medically important antibiotics.
David Wallinga, senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the 2015 increase in sales is troubling. “Sales just keep rising. Against the backdrop of a crisis in now untreatable or nearly untreatable infections, this report further underscores how urgently we need more and stronger government action to address the ongoing overuse of the drugs in livestock,” he said.