FDA releases annual report on antibiotic sales for animals

FDA seems a bit disingenuous in several places in its report on antibiotic sales.

Dr. Richard Raymond

December 11, 2019

4 Min Read
FDA releases annual report on antibiotic sales for animals

The report, released on Dec. 10, 2019, is, as always, labeled the Annual Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed in 2018 for Use in Food-Producing Animals.

Well, the 2018 reference is not “as always” but the rest is and “as always,” the first footnote to the first graph says these numbers include horses and companion animals. So change the stupid title next year, will you?

The argument can be made that the amount of antibiotics sold for us to give our dogs and cats pales in comparison to the amount used in cows and pigs.

And that would be true.

But another truism is that the medications used in companion animals are more likely to be identical to those used in human medicine, not the ionophores and Not Individually Reported (NIR) classes which comprised 48% of animal sales in 2018. 

Also, of all medically important antibiotics (those used in both human and animal medicine) sold for use in animals in 2018, 66% were in the tetracycline class. That class is rarely, if ever, used in companion animal and human medicine.

Lastly on this subject, whose runny nose is a child more likely to rub up against: a kitten or a piglet? And which has increased risk of exposure to an antibiotic resistant bug that might be shared?

But back to the 2018 sales numbers with the above caveats noted.

In comparing medically important sales from 2017 through 2018, there was a 9% increase in the total, a number that is disappointing considering last year’s sales dropped 33% when compared to 2016.

Of the increase, aminoglycosides, an important player in life threatening infections, saw an increase of 13%, Cephalosporins, think Keflex, rose 7%, penicillin was up 6% and tetracyclines a   big jump of 12%.

By species, cattle were up 8%, swine a whopping 17% increase and chickens were down again by another 17%.

Just think, if the chickens even stayed at zero increase or decrease, the total increase for all sales would have been well into double digits. This is not a good trend despite what the Food & Drug Administration claims.

Total sales of medically important antibiotics by species were:





I think FDA is a bit disingenuous in several places in its report.

For instance, FDA says that “Despite this increase, 2018 is the second-lowest year on record…..sales are down 21% since 2009, and down 38% since 2015….”

True, but they are up 9% in the last reporting year, negating much of the gains reported and touted in the 2017 report.

They go on to say that comparing animal sales to human sales is fraught with difficulty because:

“There are many more animals than humans. For instance, there are approximately 327 million people in the U.S. while the U.S. Department of Agriculture records indicate that about 9.1 billion chickens are slaughtered annually.

There are differences in physiology and weight between humans and animals: the average adult human weighs 184 lb., while a beef steer weights about 1,352 lb.”

Seriously, they must think we have someone tie our shoelaces every morning because we can’t think for ourselves.

I mean, really, if I wanted to shoot holes in the last two sentences I would simply reverse the facts and state that we have 327 million humans compared to 50 million cattle slaughtered every year and that the average adult human weighs 184 lb. (a number I find very low compared to what I sense as reality) and the average chicken weighs about 6 lb.

Therefore, I would try and convince you that the amount of antibiotics used in human medicine is quite low compared to the amount used in animal medicine; but I know you tie your own shoelaces so I won’t go down that road.

And the too often used disclaimer that “While sales data do not necessarily reflect actual antimicrobial use…….”

What are they suggesting? That ranchers and farmers buy expensive antibiotics and then let their use-by dates expire on the shelf?

Maybe what really needs to be addressed is why the increase, and why so high specifically in swine?

Total numbers of animals on feed won’t drive this amount of increase.

Are farmers and ranchers treating more infectious diseases because of the ban on medically important antibiotics for growth promotion?

(Most of the increase in sales were prescriptions to treat infections or part of the Veterinary Feed Directive.)

Did we go too far overboard responding to uneducated consumers and promoting “No Antibiotics Ever” and eliminating disease preventers like ionophores?

Simply put, have we jeopardized animal welfare in an effort to satisfy those who really do not understand what causes antibiotic resistance that can threaten one’s health?

Seriously, a couple hundred Americans die from antibiotic resistant Salmonella each year, possibly contracted from eating poultry. But the majority of poultry-related salmonella outbreaks in humans still show the bacteria to be sensitive, not resistant, to the drugs of choice to treat salmonellosis.

At the same time, the Center for Disease Control estimates that 23,000 Americans will die each year from methicillin resistant staph aureus (MRSA) usually acquired in a health care setting.

Which is why I am putting off joint replacement surgery as long as I can.

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