Photo: Alex E. Proimos, Flickr
Until now, we've only guessed the amount of antibiotics used were high to keep our pig, cattle and poultry stocks healthy. In fact, the Animal Health Institute predicted 11.1 million kilograms were used nationwide in 2005. But the Food and Drug Administration's records don't go back that far.
For the first time, the FDA has released an estimate. In 2009 alone, "13.1 million kilograms of antimicrobial drugs were sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals" in the U.S., cites Livable Future from the report (.pdf) made available to the public last Thursday. There's also a chart listing approved antibiotics in each drug class.
That 13.1 million kilograms is just short of 29 million pounds. "That's a lot," writes Maryn McKenna on her Wired magazine blog. (McKenna is a journalist specializing in infectious diseases, and the author of Superbug, notes Food Safety News.)
We think of antibiotics as a good thing, something to rid ourselves of disease, but overuse can lower resistance, and that's exactly what we're seeing in meat production. This in turn calls for stronger antibiotics, which don't just stay with the animal. It carries through to the land and those working on it, not to mention its unidentified consequences to those who consume the meat.
Nutritionist Marion Nestle notes in The Atlantic that since this is the first report, "it is not possible to say whether the numbers are going up or down. But the agency is now requiring meat producers to report on antibiotic use so we now have a baseline for measuring progress."