FDA's report on antimicrobials used in food animals highlights the need for more forceful agency action

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Statement of CSPI President Dr. Peter G. Lurie

Today, the Food and Drug Administration released the 2020 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, which showed sales levels close to those from recent years. These data have been compiled annually since 2011 as part of a regulatory reaction to the role of veterinary antimicrobial use in the development of resistance.

The report highlights that more should be done by the FDA to examine antimicrobial use in animal agriculture. The report documents a small 3 percent reduction (from 6,189,260 kilograms to 6,002,056 kg) in the weight of medically important antimicrobials in 2020 compared to 2019. This is a 38 percent reduction from the peak year of 2015 in which 9,702,943 kg of antimicrobials were sold or distributed. Most of this reduction has been driven by reductions in tetracycline use. However, like previous reports, these numbers are not adjusted for biomass (the numbers, species and weights of the animals produced over the year). Without examining this information, a 3 percent difference in sales could indicate either an increase, no change, or a decrease in antimicrobial use. The FDA released a biomass adjuster proposal in 2017, but has not followed up since accepting public comments.

By its nature, the report only analyzes sales and distribution data. FDA is not collecting data on the purposes for which these drugs are actually being used on farms, information of vital importance to regulators, public health professionals, consumers, and the industry itself.

The FDA needs to be bolder in taking actions to monitor antimicrobial use in food producing animals and resistance. The rapid evolution of SARS-CoV-2 is an object lesson in how adaptable microorganisms can be. Antibiotic resistance is too foreseeable of a public health crisis to neglect.