December 13, 2010

Drug amounts for food animals now reported by FDA: Thanks, it’s about time!

Dave Love

Dave Love

Associate Scientist, Public Health & Sustainable Aquaculture Project

Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

19240The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a report last Thursday (Dec 9, 2010) that 13.1 million kilograms of antimicrobial drugs were sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals in 2009 in the United States (pdf). Why is this important? It represents the first time the FDA has reported the quantity of antimicrobial drugs that are available for use in the production of swine, dairy cow, cattle, and poultry in the US.

The recent FDA value also settles a longstanding dispute between the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) and an industry lobbyist group, the Animal Health Institute (AHI). UCS estimated that in 1998, 13.4 million kilograms of antimicrobials were used in food animal production, while for the same year AHI reported that just 8.1 million kilograms were used (Mellon et al. 2001).  The new FDA report shows that UCS was much close to the actual amount than AHI.

Perhaps AHI knew they were off all along.  In 2008, AHI produced revised estimates of antimicrobial drugs, which indicate the amounts of antimicrobial drugs available for food animal production has been trending upwards in recent years (Animal Health Institute 2008):

  • 11.1 million kilograms in 2005
  • 12.0 million kilograms in 2006
  • 12.6 million kilograms in 2007

The FDA report was triggered by a 2008 amendment to the Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA), which requires more publically available data on the quantity of food animal drugs sold in the US and for export.  While this is a major step forward, the FDA needs to improve the resolution of data in ADUFA reports.   I would like the FDA to go back to their raw data and present their findings in more detail, including:

  • Report amounts of specific drugs within a drug class;
  • Report the amount of drugs utilized by each class of animal (swine, poultry, cattle or dairy cows);
  • Report all drug amounts by the actual drug name. Roughly 17% of the data are not clearly labeled, but instead lumped into a category called NIR or “Not Independently Reported.”

The FDA needs to continue improving its transparency and reporting of antimicrobial drug amounts collected in ADUFA the public can have actionable information to better advocate for reconsidering non-therapeutic usage of antimicrobial drugs in food animals.

– Dave Love


Mellon M, Benbrook C, Benbrook KL. 2001. Hogging it: Estimates of Antimicrobial abuse in livestock. Cambridge, MA:UCS Publications.

Animal Health Institute (AHI). 2008. News Release: Sales of Disease-Fighting Animal Medicines Rise. Available:

One Comment

  1. The amendment to ADUFA is certainly a significant and welcomed step in distributional oversight of antimicrobials – and one that would benefit further from the expanded transparencies proposed in this article. I would also like to see a clear distinction made between antimicrobials used for growth promotion and those used in therapeutic applications. Those used for growth promotion are administered at low, continuous, non-therapeutic levels that are particularly effective in spurring antimicrobial resistance. A further distinction should be made between those antimicrobials distributed for public sale (e.g., in feedstores) versus those sold to licensed veterinarians. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has steadfastly supported the industrial use of low dose antimicrobials, while calling for a risk analysis to investigate the pros and cons of this practice. Yet, in the U.S., the data appropriate for such analyses have been lacking. Given the tremendous advances in informatics (consider the sophisticated data tracking capabilities of the credit card industry), there is no longer any reason not to fully leverage this technology to track antimicrobial drug manufacture, distribution and usage to support the proposed risk analyses in the interest of the public’s health.

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