DES MOINES - A 33 percent decline from 2016 to 2017 in the domestic sales and distribution of all medically important antibiotics used in food animal production was announced by the Food and Drug Administration Dec. 18.
The 2017 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals also shows a decline of 43 percent since 2015, the peak year of sales/distribution since the FDA began issuing these annual reports, according to an FDA news release. While sales data do not necessarily reflect actual antimicrobial use, the reduction in sales volume observed in 2016 and 2017 is "an indicator that ongoing efforts to support antimicrobial stewardship are having an impact."
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb said in a statement that the decline suggested efforts by the agency to reduce improper use of the drugs were paying off, and that 2017 was the first year medically important antimicrobials "were no longer allowed to be used for growth promotion and could only be obtained through a veterinarian's order."
"While it's impossible to completely outrace antimicrobial resistance, we can take important steps now to slow its pace and reduce its impact on both human and animal health," Gottlieb said.
"This report is another indicator of the hard work that my fellow pig farmers have been doing to reduce the need for antibiotics," National Pork Board President Steve Rommereim, a pig farmer from Alcester, South Dakota, said in a news release from the group. "We continue to work closely with our veterinarians to ensure that we use antibiotics responsibly and according to FDA-approved labels. We're committed to using antibiotics in a strategic way that focuses on animal health and well-being, as well as to protecting overall public health."
Veterinarian Dave Pyburn, senior vice president of science and technology at the National Pork Board, says that while the new report is not a perfect estimate of antibiotic use at the farm level, it clearly shows a downward trend in antibiotic use intended for food animals.
He also notes that this latest data reflects what happened after the pork industry's successful implementation in January 2017 of the Veterinary Feed Directive, which banned the use of medically important antibiotics for growth-promotion use.
"It was a relatively smooth transition after the Veterinary Feed Directives went into effect," Pyburn said. "Thanks to well-planned and well-executed education programs implemented by the pork industry long before that date, producers, veterinarians and allied industry personnel were prepared to modify their procedures."
The FDA report shows that the overall usage of antibiotics in livestock is the lowest since the report began in 2009.
According to a the University of Minnesota Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, the clearest impact is on sales of antibiotics used for growth promotion, which dropped from 5.7 million kilograms in 2016 to 0 kg in 2017. Over-the-counter sales declined dramatically as well, from 8 million kg in 2016 to 271,280 kg in 2017.
There was also a decrease in most of the medically important drug classes sold for use in food-producing animals. Tetracyclines, which account for nearly two thirds of all antibiotics sold for use in livestock, fell by 40 percent compared with 2016, while sales of aminoglycosides, penicillins and macrolides dropped by 19, 18 and 15 percent, respectively. Sales of fluoroquinolone antibiotics, however, increased by 24 percent.
Public health and animal medicine consultant Gail Hansen said the reductions don't surprise her, given that 2017 was the first year that medically important antibiotics weren't allowed to be sold for growth promotion or feed efficiency.
Among the food-animal groups, the largest decline in antibiotic sales was seen in chickens. The 47 percent decrease from 2016 to 2017 is likely linked to the poultry industry's consumer-driven shift to raising chicken without medically important antibiotics. But sales of medically important antibiotics also dropped by 35 percent in cows, 35 percent in pigs and 11 percent in turkeys.