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As the US grapples with reducing antibiotic resistance linked to food-producing animals, the UK reports that notable progress is being made. Sales of these medicines for use in livestock dropped 10 percent last year from 2014, which continues a decade-long trend, according to a new report by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The report also found a drop in sales of the “highest priority antibiotics that are critically important” for humans, which comprised slightly more than 1 percent of all antibiotics sold for use in animals in 2015. As an example, the agency noted that the British Poultry Council reported that use of antibiotics by its members fell 27 percent in 2015 from the previous year.

“While antibiotic use can fluctuate with a number of external factors, such as disease outbreaks in a given year, differing degrees of reduction have been seen across the board in products authorized for different species and for all major classes of antibiotics,” Peter Borriello, the agency’s chief executive officer, wrote in the report.


The report comes amid growing concern over antibiotic resistance worldwide.

As many as 50,000 lives are lost each year to antibiotic-resistant infections in Europe and the US alone. Globally, at least 700,000 die each year due to drug resistance in illnesses such as bacterial infections, malaria, HIV/AIDS, or tuberculosis, according to a report issued last May that was sponsored by the UK government. The Veterinary Medicines Directorate cited data forecasting antibiotic resistance may cause as many as 10 million deaths per year and cost the global economy $100 trillion by 2050.


In the US, antibiotics have been blamed for some 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And about 70 percent of antibiotics used to treat Americans are also used in livestock, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council, which is among the groups that filed the petition.

The US Food and Drug Administration is hoping to mitigate the problem with a voluntary program, which goes into effect next month, that relies on drug makers and food producers to curtail usage, specifically eliminating the use of antibiotics for growth promotion.

However, antibiotics that are approved for growth promotion in livestock are also approved by the FDA for preventing disease, and critics say the lines between these uses are not always clear. As a result, advocacy groups have called for the agency to restrict usage, rather than rely on voluntary programs. Another loophole: Some antibiotics do not come with any instructions on how long they can be used.

There is also concern that the US — unlike some European countries — has failed to set targets for reducing usage. Steven Roach, who heads the Food Safety Program for Food Animal Concerns Trust, an advocacy group, explained that governments should be setting targets for antibiotic reduction in food-producing livestock, because it is otherwise difficult to monitor progress.

“The UK is making progress towards getting its use of antibiotics in agriculture down to what has been achieved in Denmark, a country with a highly productive animal agriculture industry dependent on exports,” he told us. “Targets for antibiotics reduction have also been effective in reducing use and reducing resistance in the Netherlands and Germany.

“The US, in contrast, has set no targets for reducing use on farm. … The FDA hasn’t even tried to guess how much reduction they can expect from their efforts.”

  • A number of alternatives to AGP’s (Antibiotic Growth Promoters) have been investigated but none have been shown to be as cost effective as AGP’s in accelerating livestock growth. There is, however, one sure way to eliminate the problem of antibiotics- grow the meat in the lab. In 2011 the first hamburger was grown in a petri dish using stem cells from discarded animal parts at livestock processing facilities (yum yum eat em up). Total cost for one burger: $345,000. Once they can figure out a way to get the costs down, Lab-O-Burger will be coming to a Bob’s Big Boy near you.

    • Ed, science fiction is becoming reality. As referenced in the article the biotech company Modern Meadow has recently completed Series B financing and will be commercializing the world’s first biofabricated leather. Not too big a stretch from there to Hamburger U, but in the meantime McDonalds could just throw some special sauce on the leather and it would pass for an extra well done Big Mac.

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