Superbugs have already evolved and reached dangerous proportions worldwide. Experts agree that the widespread abuse of antibiotics in human as well as livestock Medicine is the most important factor in preventing an epidemic.
The use of antibiotics by ranchers in different countries varies greatly. Higher antibiotic use over time will lead to further spread of resistant bacteria, increasing public health risks. It is in the legitimate public interest to know which countries are good custodians (less intensive users) of antibiotics and which are not, as resistant bacteria spread easily across borders.
However, relatively few countries, including the United States, track antibiotic use at the agricultural level. Most are done in Europe.
The World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH), the animal equivalent of the World Health Organization, states that information on antibiotic sales can serve as a basis for estimating actual antibiotic consumption when farm-level antibiotic data are not available.
Both European and American countries are members of WOAH. Since 2010, dozens of European countries have provided annual sales information for veterinary antibiotics to the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA then published an annual report containing both raw and weight-adjusted sales data for each of these countries, as well as animal production for Europe as a whole. As a result, estimated antibiotic consumption rates for 25 European countries up to 2011 and for several countries up to 2005 are available. EMA uses a standardized weight adjustment method first developed in 2010.
The United States is also a member of WOAH, but since 2009, the FDA has only released annual reports containing sales of raw antibiotics, not weight-adjusted sales. Starting in 2009, weight-adjusted US sales data from NRDC using the EMA method is available for analysis.
In general, the use of antibiotics in livestock production has declined less in the United States than in Europe as a whole.
Between 2011 and 2020, 25 European countries saw a 43.2% decline in antibiotic use in livestock, while the United States saw a 30.4% decline in livestock.
Antibiotic use in animal husbandry has fallen by more than 43%, just a few years after the European Union banned the use of these drugs in 2006 to promote growth. The FDA finally outlawed the use of medically important antibiotics for growth in the United States in January 2017. Instead, NRDC estimates that overall usage increased by 5.4% from 2017 to 2020.
Efforts in the United States to reduce antibiotic use in livestock have not been as effective as those in Europe since 2011. As of 2017, there was no measurable impact on antibiotic use or reductions in antibiotic use.
According to data published in Europe, by 2020, most of Europe’s leading livestock farmers have reduced their use of antibiotics by 50% to 70%. By December 2022 at the latest, FDA can only be held accountable for meeting its 50% reduction target by reporting annual sales of veterinary antibiotics on a raw and weight-adjusted basis. Agencies should quickly extend these weight adjustments across the 12 years of raw annual sales data released to date (2009-2020).
Follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter & Facebook.