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AHI Response to Reuters Story on Antibiotic Use in Chicken

Antibiotics are important tools used by producers and veterinarians to keep food animals healthy, which is essential to maintaining a healthy food supply. It is important to remember that they are only one of several tools and practices used. Animal health companies, producers and veterinarians work hard to minimize the need for antibiotics, use them carefully and judiciously only when needed, and are committed to delivering a healthy food product to American consumers.

The animal health industry is working with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other stakeholders to comply with the agency’s judicious use policy, meaning medically important antibiotics will be used in food animals only to address disease threats under the supervision of a veterinarian.


  • The Reuters story on antibiotic use in poultry buried the lead in a side-bar story:  the growth promotion uses of medically important antibiotics featured in the story are being phased out.
  • The story mischaracterizes how this policy will be implemented.
    • The FDA approved labels for prevention of disease are generally different from the FDA approval labels for growth.
    • Once this policy is implemented, producers and veterinarians cannot and will not use antibiotics at low levels to promote growth.
    • Prevention claims require the documented threat of the disease or bacteria that is named on the label, and veterinarians will have to document this threat in order to prescribe the use of an antibiotic for prevention.
    • The story contains speculative comments about the impact of antibiotic use in animal on human health. Omitted from the story were readily available facts, including:
      • Last month FDA released the latest findings from the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) showing that 85 percent of all non-typhoidal Salmonella (the kind that comes from animals) collected from humans had no resistance of any kind.  Multi-drug resistance in Salmonella from humans, slaughtered chickens and slaughtered swine was the lowest since NARMS testing began.
      • Published risk assessments have measured the risk the resistant bacteria transferring from animals to humans resulting in antibiotic treatment failures and find this risk to be vanishingly small.  One of these risk assessments dealing with a compound cited in the Reuters story was done by FDA, and concluded that the chances of treatment failure in humans from use of the compound in animals ranged from 7 in 1 billion to 14 in 100 million annually.
  • The story inaccurately characterizes FDA’s examination of antibiotics for the potential to impact human resistance levels.  In fact, products were subjected to studies to assess aspects of potential resistance selection in the 1980s.  Most of those studies indicated no major public health concern.  FDA’s standard for examining resistance was updated with issuance of Guidance 152 in 2003, and all new products are examined according to this new standard.  FDA not only receives information from sponsors regarding antibiotic resistance developments but also reviews NARMS data and follows the published literature closely.  It is fair to say that approved and marketed products are continually evaluated and scrutinized  for their potential to contribute to the human burden of resistance.