WASHINGTON — U.S. meat, poultry and dairy producers used almost 29 million pounds of antibiotics on domestic farm animals in 2009, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's first summary report on the issue, released this month.
The report marks a significant increase in antibiotic use since the beginning of the decade. In 2000, the Animal Health Institute, a trade group representing veterinary drug suppliers, estimated total domestic use at 17.8 million pounds.
Food activism groups, as well as organizations including the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, have expressed concern about these practices, particularly the use of “sub-therapeutic” antibiotics, which are mixed into the feed of healthy animals to promote faster growth. Many scientists have theorized that these regular, low doses of antibiotics may be linked to the emergence of new antibiotic-resistant pathogens such as MRSA and ESBL E. coli, two so-called “superbugs.”
In response to these concerns, the FDA appears to be moving toward stricter regulation of antibiotic use in healthy animals.
In a draft guidance document issued in June, the agency wrote that “in light of the risk that antimicrobial resistance poses to public health, FDA believes the use of medically important antimicrobial drugs in food-producing animals for production purposes (e.g., to promote growth or improve feed efficiency) represents an injudicious use of these important drugs.”