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Where’s the FDA?: Meat production is making lifesaving drugs less effective

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Antibiotic sales for use in livestock ticked back up 7 percent from 2017 to 2021, per a new FDA report. The chicken industry bought 12 percent more antibiotics in 2021 than in 2020.

KENNY TORRELLA: The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knew that America’s meat industry had a drug problem. For decades, evidence had amassed that the widespread use of antibiotics to help chickens, pigs, and cattle grow faster — and survive the crowded conditions of factory farms — was causing bacteria to mutate and develop resistance to antibiotics. By 2009, US agriculture companies were buying up two-thirds of what are termed medically important antibiotics — those used in human medicine. This in turn has made those precious, lifesaving drugs less effective for people.

Over time, once easily treatable human infections, like sepsis, urinary tract infections, and tuberculosis, became harder or sometimes impossible to treat. A foundational component of modern medicine was starting to crumble. But it wasn’t until the mid-2010s that the FDA finally took the basic steps of requiring farmers to get veterinary prescriptions for antibiotics and banning the use of antibiotics to make animals grow faster — steps that some European regulators had taken a decade or more prior.

Thanks to those two actions alone, sales of medically important antibiotics for livestock plummeted 42 percent from 2015 to 2017. But according to Matthew Wellington of the Public Interest Research Group, the FDA’s reforms went after the low-hanging fruit, and they didn’t go nearly far enough. Now, in a concerning course reversal, antibiotic sales for use in livestock ticked back up 7 percent from 2017 to 2021, per a new FDA report. The chicken industry, which had led the pack in reducing antibiotic use on farms, bought 12 percent more antibiotics in 2021 than in 2020.

It’s a sobering turn of events with life-and-death implications. In 2019, antibiotic-resistant bacteria directly killed over 1.2 million people, including 35,000 Americans, and more than 3 million others died from diseases where antibiotic resistance played a role — far more than the global toll of HIV/AIDS or malaria, leading the World Health Organization to call antibiotic resistance “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today”. SOURCE…

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