Issues and Advocacy

Animal Antibiotics

Animal antibiotics make our food supply safer and people healthier. Antibiotics are a critical tool to prevent, control and treat disease in animals. In doing so, they also reduce the chance of bacterial transmission from animals to humans. That’s why for more than 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of antibiotics in livestock and poultry. Veterinarians work with farmers to use these products in a manner that provides consumers with the safest food possible.

Because antibiotic resistance is a public health concern, several layers of protection have been put in place to ensure that animal antibiotics do not affect public health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the FDA, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with the veterinary community, animal health companies and farmers, have an effective process in place to protect human health. These protective measures include:

An FDA approval process requiring animal health companies to submit data proving the safety and efficacy of the product, and a risk assessment of the product’s contribution to antibiotic resistance;

Ongoing government oversight by the USDA, FDA and the CDC to track and limit the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria;

Risk assessments that have been conducted and published by the FDA, animal health companies and independent third-party researchers; and

Judicious use programs that are specific to the different livestock species, giving veterinarians and farmers specific guidelines to safely and properly administer antibiotics on farms.


Tracking Antibiotic Resistance

The U.S. government closely tracks antibiotic resistance through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a cooperative program among:

FDA, which coordinates the program and monitors resistant bacteria in retail meats;

CDC , which collects samples from public health laboratories to monitor the emergence of antibiotic-resistant foodborne pathogens in humans; and

USDA’s Agricultural Research Service: which collects samples to monitor for antibiotic resistance trends in farm animals.

The National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System tests sample material for susceptibility to 17 different antimicrobial compounds. More than 50,000 Salmonella and Campylobacter samples have been tested in all three arms of the NARMS program. The data indicate that the human resistance rates to critically important antibiotics have been very low and have remained relatively steady in recent years.

The Impact of Political Decisions

The safety mechanisms put in place by federal government agencies have been successful in allowing veterinarians and farmers to use antibiotics to keep animals healthy while protecting public health. Studies indicate that the presence of foodborne bacteria increases when the use of antibiotics that help suppress animal diseases decreases. To learn more, visit Risk Assessments.

There is clear evidence from Denmark’s ban on antibiotics for growth or health maintenance resulted in increased rates of animal death and disease, as well as an increase in the overall rate of antibiotic use for treating animal disease. In addition, the study showed little evidence to support claim that antibiotic resistant rates in humans decreased. To learn more, visit the Denmark ban.