Headed in the Right Direction

The following commentary does not necessarily reflect the views of AgWeb or Farm Journal. The opinions expressed below are the author's own.

U.S. sales of medically important antimicrobials for use in food animals dropped considerably last year according to the latest summary report from the FDA. The decline in 2017 accelerated a trend that began in 2016. According to FDA data, sales of these products peaked during 2015.

The downward trend comes as no accident, as 2017 was the first full year for implementation of the FDA’s Guidance for Industry 213, which eliminated performance or production claims from medically important antimicrobials used in food animals.

The new VFD rules, which placed access to medically important antimicrobials used in feed under the oversight of veterinarians, likely shifted producers away from some routine antimicrobial purchases and uses.

According to the 2017 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, sales and distribution of all medically important antimicrobials decreased 33 percent decline between 2016 and 2017, 41 percent since 2015 (peak year of sales/distribution) and decreased 28 percent since the first year of reported sales in 2009.

The report also shows a slight decline in sales of non-medically important antimicrobials for food-animal use during 2017. Cattle account for the largest portion of non-medically important antimicrobial use – primarily ionophores used for production and/or therapeutic purposes. Sales of non-medically important antimicrobials for use in cattle dropped 1% during 2017, while those for use in hogs declined 7% and chickens by 13%.

In the report, the FDA notes that sales and distribution information does not represent actual use of the products. Veterinarians and animal producers could, for example, purchase drugs but not actually administer them to animals or administer them in later years.

Of the 2017 domestic sales and distribution of medically important antimicrobials for use in food-producing animals, tetracyclines accounted for the largest share at 64%, followed by penicillins at 12%, macrolides at 8%, sulfas at 5%, aminoglycosides at 5%, lincosamides at 3%, and cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones each for less than 1%. The authors estimate that 42% of the total was intended for use in cattle, 36% for use in swine, 12% for turkeys, 5% intended for chickens and an estimated 5% intended for use in other or unknown species.

Critics often point to the quantity of antimicrobials used in food animals relative to use in human medicine, but FDA cautions that such comparisons can be misleading. There are for example, approximately 320 million people in the U.S., compared with about 9 billion chickens are slaughtered annually. Also, the average adult human weighs 182 pounds, compared with a finished beef steer weighing about 1,363 pounds. Finally, different animal species metabolize drugs differently, meaning that some may require more of the drug to be effective, or may need to be treated for a longer period of time.

It also is important to note that non-medically important antimicrobials account for virtually half of total antimicrobial sales for food animals. According to the report, sales of medically important antimicrobials for food animals during 2017 totaled 5,559,212 kilograms, compared with 5,374,156 kilograms for non-medically important products – 50.8% and 49.2% respectively.

 “These reductions are an indication that our ongoing efforts to support antimicrobial stewardship are having a significant impact,” says FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D. “It’s important to note that this year’s report is the first to include sales/distribution data submitted after all medically important antimicrobial drugs administered to food-producing animals in their feed or water were no longer allowed to be used for growth promotion and could only be obtained through a veterinarian’s order. This sea change was a direct result of the roadmap that the FDA provided to animal drug sponsors in Guidance for Industry (GFI) #213.”

For more about antibiotic stewardship, see these articles on BovineVetOnline:

Veterinary Groups Issue Statement on Antimicrobial Use

Antimicrobial Stewardship: A Need for International Standards

Researchers Bust Antimicrobial-Resistance Myth

FDA Plan Previews the Future of Antimicrobial Stewardship