More than 80% of US antibiotic use occurs in agriculture, especially in the production of meat from poultry, pigs and concentrated feed lot operations for beef cattle. A useful recent survey of the research on this issue for poultry and pigs was just published by Aude Teillant and Ramanan Laxminarayan, Economics of Antibiotic Use in U.S. Swine and Poultry Production.
Three main take-aways here:
1. Most of the studies showing a significant benefit from antibiotics as growth promoters (AGPs) were conducted decades ago, before many farms improved animal husbandry practices and before resistance grew. Studies on more modern operations show little or no benefit from AGPs.
2. New antibiotic classes have been rare, and it seems likely that new classes will be restricted to human use. If so, the agricultural sector needs to protect and extend the usefulness of the antibiotics currently available. Agricultural antibiotics are a limited resource; they should not be used when other substitutes (better practices, vaccination) are available.
3. The President’s antibiotic proposal in the budget calls for $77 million for the Department of Agriculture, a four-fold increase (Maryn McKenna). These funds could help us dramatically reduce total US antibiotic consumption, improving human health while not burdening our farmers.