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Drug Use Drops Again

An animal health industry survey reveals that use of antibiotics in animals continues to spiral downward despite increases in annual meat production.

The Animal Health Institute's (AHI) annual survey of its drug firm members shows that antibiotic use in farm and companion animals has dropped for the third year in a row.

In 2001, 21.8 million lb. of antibiotics were sold, down from 23.7 million lb. in 2000 and 24 million lb. in 1999.

“Veterinarians and livestock and poultry producers are constantly evaluating their use of antibiotics as part of the judicious use of these products,” reports Alexander S. Mathews, AHI president and CEO.

“While meat production between 1999 and 2001 rose 1.1 million lb., the amount of antibiotics used per pound of meat produced is going down.”

Mathews cites three reasons for this trend:

  1. Judicious use of antibiotics and improved production practices;

  2. Continued efforts in preventive care, and

  3. The push by public health and consumer groups to raise awareness of the antibiotic issue.

Table 1. Animal Health Institute Survey: Active Antibacterial Agents Sold by AHI Members, 2000 - 2001
Antibiotic Class 2000 (lb.) 2001 (lb.)
Ionophores/Arsenicals* 9,165,043 7,758,492
Tetracyclines 6,693,834 7,144,523
Cephalosporins, macrolides, lincosamides, polypeptides, streptogramins and other minor classes of antibiotics** 4,857,896 4,268,658
Sulfonamides 1,351,899 592,002
Penicillins 1,011,252 1,814,070
Aminoglycosides 337,819 257,252
Fluoroquinolones 38,082 36,204
Total 23,725,824 21,871,202
*Unique drug products developed for animal production and not related to traditional antibiotics.
**Grouping necessary to abide by disclosure agreements.

Use Patterns

About 10 tons of antibiotics are fed to the 8 billion livestock and poultry raised annually in the U.S. That includes about 92 million pigs.

The vast majority — 87% of use — is for disease treatment, control and prevention, despite the claim of critics that the majority of antibiotics are fed unnecessarily to healthy animals. This is considered to be therapeutic use, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA).

The remaining 13% of antibiotic use is for health maintenance or growth promotion. AHI says although these claims are controversial, health maintenance shifts the population balance of microflora in the gastrointestinal tract, improving nutrient use and healthy growth.

Furthermore, about 47% of the antibiotics used in food animals are either not used in human medicine or are not important to human medicine, according to AHI. Table 1 lists antibiotics sold by AHI members for 2000 and 2001.

The level of antibiotics used by humans and companion animals is equal to at least 10 times more drug per kilogram (2.2 lb.) bodyweight than food-producing animals, says an AVMA report (Figure 1).