The stakes have never been higher. Antibiotics are ever-declining in effectiveness, and everyone from the American Medical Association to the CDC, USDA and the World Health Organization agrees that the huge use in agriculture is at least partly at fault for the increase in drug resistant infections in humans. FDA data on pharmaceutical sales shows 80 percent of all antibiotics in the US are sold for use in food animals – about three-quarters of which are added to animal feed for healthy animals to promote growth or control disease among flocks or herds under confinement conditions.
Over decades, the FDA has never taken an approved feed antibiotic off the market. It proposed withdrawing penicillins and tetracyclines from animal feed in 1977, but never followed through. In late March, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) won a court decision that directs the FDA to finally do so, if the Big Pharma manufacturers of these feed drugs cannot show their use to be safe for humans.
In 1977, penicillins and tetracyclines constituted the bulk of medically important antibiotics put into feed; today, industry data provided to FDA show more than 14.2 million lbs / year of the two drugs are given to food animals. Another 15 million pounds of other antimicrobials, including erythromycins and sulfa antibiotics, are also given to food animals. By contrast, only about 7 million pounds of antibiotics of any kind are sold for use in humans each year.