Speed Reads


American farmers and ranchers are finally using fewer antibiotics on farm animals

For the first time since the Food and Drug Administration began reporting antibiotic use on poultry, cattle, and pigs in 2009, sales of the drugs dropped last year, the FDA reported this week. The 14 percent drop in overall sales of medically important antibiotics, after years of steady increases, "provides a glimmer of hope that we can beat the growing epidemic of drug-resistant infections," said Avinash Kar at the Natural Resources Defense Council. The FDA and other groups have been trying to encourage less antibiotic use on farms because, among other things, overuse of antibiotics — in humans and animals — has increased the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

This year's FDA report also broke down antibiotic use by industry, and it turns out cattle account for 43 percent of medically important antibiotics. Chickens account for 6 percent of antibiotics use; turkeys, 9 percent; and swine, 37 percent.

Antibiotic use is still much higher than in 2009, despite the drop in 2016, but the first annual decline is "very encouraging," Karin Hoelzer, a former FDA scientist who now works at the Pew Charitable Trusts, tells NPR. She said that the new data will help the FDA and outside groups figure out what is working, and needs to be improved, in persuading farmers and ranchers to cut back on antibiotic use. You can read more about the agricultural antibiotic issue at NPR.