Antibiotic Use in Animal Agriculture Estimated at 29 Million Pounds in 2009!

by Allison Knott

Antibiotic use in the dairy industry has received some heightened press in the past two months.  The FDA recently released a statement reporting a concern for the overuse of antibiotics for animals and even acknowledged a misuse of such drugs.  As reported by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 2009 an estimated 29 million pounds of antibiotics were used for animal agriculture.  A long debated issue in the use of antibiotics is the development of “superbugs,” or highly resistant strains of bacteria.  The resistant bacteria can effect animals as well as humans.  The carry-over effect occurs because the resistant strains of bacteria travel into water from run-off of farms, into the air, and sometimes into the food we consume.

According to Marion Nestle,a professor at New York University in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health, this is the first time the FDA has counted the amount of antibiotics used in animal agriculture so it is impossible to know if the number has changed.  A recent blog posted by Maryn McKenna, author of “SUPERBUG: The Rise of Drug-Resistant Staph and the Danger of a World Without  Antibiotics”, reports that animal antibiotics account for 80 percent of the total antibiotics sold in the United States while the other 20 percent are sold for human use.  She also reports, based on the Center for a Livable Future, that antibiotics used in humans are almost identical to those used in animals.  Due to their likeness, there is a problem with exposure to excess antibiotics leading to resistance to such drugs among humans.

A recent debate in antibiotics among animal agriculture, both farmers and the Food and Drug Administration, is centered on dairy products.  The FDA tests milk for antibiotics, but is attempting to change the process.  An article in The New York Times on January 25, 2011 reports that the FDA and the dairy industry differ when it comes to testing regulations.  With the new testing process, the dairy industry, according to the article, fears that millions of gallons of milk will be lost due to the time it takes to receive test results.  The FDA had planned to initiate the new procedure for testing milk this month, but has postponed the testing due to the opposition from the dairy industry.  Milk is currently tested for up to six common types of antibiotics, but there are other antibiotics that might be used and are not tested for.  The goal of the new FDA process is to test for up to 24 different types of antibiotics as well as some other drugs typically used like anti-inflammatory drugs.  The new regulations will initially target those dairy farms that have had higher than allowed amounts of antibiotic residue in tissues of cows bound for processing.

As of today, the new testing process has not been put into effect.  You can read more about this subject on The New York Times website.

Allison Knott has been a registered dietitian since 2008 and was previously employed in a hospital in Georgia.  She is currently pursuing a master of science in Nutrition Communication.  Her passion is to communicate accurate and sound nutrition information to the general public.

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