Issue Brief

Save Antibiotics - The Link Fact Sheet

Food animal production and antibiotic resistance

The Challenge
Since the first use of penicillin, antibiotics have transformed human medicine in the United States and around the world.

These life-saving medicines cure bacterial infections that threaten human health—from pneumonia to strep to staph infections. Now, however, the overuse and misuse of antibiotics have precipitated an emerging health crisis—bacteria are more quickly adapting to and resisting common antibiotics, posing a serious challenge to human health.

Without effective antibiotics, modern medical treatments such as operations and transplants will become riskier or impossible. According to the Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance, co-chaired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the National Institutes of Health, antibiotic-resistant bacteria could make previously treatable diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis and meningitis again untreatable.

The Link to Food Animal Production
The overuse and misuse of antibiotics occurs in many ways, including inappropriate use by patients. Antibiotics also are overused and misused in food animal production. In fact, up to 70 percent of all antibiotics sold in the U.S. are given to healthy food animals. In the U.S., entire herds or flocks of food animals are often administered antibiotics in their feed or water to promote growth and weight gain—a practice that has been identified as a contributor to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics also are given to compensate for overcrowded and unsanitary conditions commonly found in food animal production facilities.

Because there are few regulations requiring drug manufacturers or food animal producers to report the quantity of antibiotics used in food animal production, the scale of antibiotic use is not precisely known. The best estimates suggest that more than 25 million pounds of antibiotics are used in food animal production every year, which is more than two-thirds of all antibiotics sold annually. This practice makes the U.S. one of the biggest users of antibiotics in food animal production in the world.

The Solution
Working together, citizens and government, industry and public interest organizations have the tools to stop the overuse and misuse of antibiotics:
• Individuals can practice safe and effective use of antibiotics by only taking the drugs when and as prescribed by a doctor.
• The food animal industry can adopt cost-effective alternative hygienic strategies for preventing illness in animals and discontinue use of antibiotics in feed for growth promotion.

The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act would withdraw the routine, non-therapeutic use of seven classes of antibiotics vitally important to human health from food animal production unless animals or herds are sick with diagnosed bacterial infections. Federal legislation such as this and/or regulation is needed in order to preserve the effectiveness of these life-saving drugs and to protect human health.

Our Campaign
The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farming promotes prudent, cost-effective strategies for curtailing the use of antibiotics in food animal production. We work with public health leaders, veterinarians, agricultural interests, academics and citizens' groups who share our objective of preserving the integrity of antibiotics as a means of protecting human and animal health.

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Media Contact

Tami Holzman

Officer, Communications

202.552.2122