Report: Antibiotic sales for food animals still on the rise, despite FDA restrictions

When the FDA announced its "judicious use" rules for antibiotics in food animals in 2013, the industry was given three years to comply with the new restrictions, which restrict access to any antibiotics that are also important in human medicine. But a year after the new rules were issued, the food industry didn't seem to be paying much attention to them, according to a new report from the FDA.

Between 2013 and 2014, sales and distribution of antibiotics for the use in food animals rose 4%. Sales of antibiotics that are also used to treat people--or those termed as "medically important"--were up 3%. In the last 5 years, sales of medically important antibiotics to the food industry rose 23%, according to the FDA report.

Under the new rules, drug companies that market antibiotics for use in food animals must change the labels of those products to specify that they shouldn't be used for purposes such as fattening up animals or improving feeding efficiency. The FDA said in a statement that it expects all drug companies to be in compliance before January 2017.

There are also directives food producers must follow, such as obtaining veterinary oversight for the use of antibiotics. And both pharma companies and producers are under pressure from the FDA to provide more detailed data about how medically important antibiotics are being used in the field. In September, the FDA, USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held a meeting, followed by a public comment period, offering ideas for collecting that data.

"FDA is committed to meeting the objectives it has been asked to carry out as described in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria," the agency said in a statement accompanying the annual report on antibiotics use.

Some advocacy groups have doubts about the FDA's ability to manage the overuse of medically important antibiotics, however. "We can no longer rely on the meat and pharmaceutical industries to self-police the responsible handling of these precious drugs," said Avinash Kar, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), in a statement commenting on the FDA's new report.

The NRDC is one of the organizations pushing the FDA to follow the lead of California, which passed a law in October banning the use of antibiotics for fattening up healthy animals. "If we want to keep our antibiotics working for people when we need them, the agency must take urgent action," Kar said.

- access the FDA statement here
- here's the NRDC press release