Almost all (90%) of the 26.5 million pounds of antibiotics estimated to be used in the United States as feed additives each year – seven times the amount used in human medicine nationwide – occurs in 23 states, according to a report released today by Environmental Defense. The report, Resistant Bugs and Antibiotic Drugs: Local Estimates of Antibiotics in Agricultural Feed and Animal Waste, is the first study to provide state and county level estimates of the quantities of antibiotics used as feed additives for chicken, hogs and beef cattle, along with estimates for antibiotics in animal waste. The report is available at www.environmentaldefense.org/go/antibiotic.estimates.
"Studies suggest that people living in areas with intensive use of antibiotics as feed additives are at greater risk of contracting antibiotic-resistant infections," said Ellen Silbergeld, Ph.D., Professor of Environmental Health Services at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
North Carolina and Iowa are each estimated to use three million pounds of antibiotics as feed additives annually, the same quantity of antibiotics estimated to be used each year in human medicine nationwide. At least one million pounds of antibiotics are estimated to be used as feed additives annually in seven other states: Georgia, Arkansas, Texas, Alabama, Minnesota, Mississippi and Missouri. On a per square mile-adjusted basis, Delaware is estimated to be by far the most intensive user of all antibiotic feed additives, using three times as many antibiotics per thousand square miles (187,000 pounds) as the next closest state, North Carolina (64,000 pounds). Two other smaller states join the ranks of the top 10 states on a per square mile basis, Maryland (4th) and Indiana (9th).
The Environmental Defense report estimates were prepared using new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) on numbers of animals per county, and multiplying those figures by estimates previously developed by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) on the quantity of feed-additive antibiotics consumed per animal. UCS presented national estimates, but not state or county estimates.
"The public has a right to know where antibiotics are being used for nonessential purposes, notably as antibiotic feed additives," said Environmental Defense senior attorney Karen Florini, co-author of the report. "Unfortunately, no governmental data are available on quantities of antibiotics used in livestock feed either locally or nationally."
Overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is widely regarded as contributing to the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that threaten human health. Antibiotics are added to feed not to treat sick animals, but rather on the grounds that they may promote slightly faster growth or prevent disease that could result from the crowded, stressful conditions.
"Feeding antibiotics to animals is not only a major cause of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the human food supply, but also results in the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals and in their waste," said Environmental Defense senior scientist Rebecca Goldburg, Ph.D., co-author of the report. "Those bacteria can in turn colonize and infect farm workers, as well as contaminate water, air, and soil."
"With antibiotics, the more you use them, the faster you lose them," concluded Goldburg. "That's because bacteria become resistant in response to being exposed to antibiotics. Antibiotic resistance is a serious and growing threat to human health, so it's just plain foolish to be feeding vast quantities of antibiotics to chickens, pigs, and beef cattle."
The report urges swift enactment of bipartisan federal legislation to phase out use of medically important antibiotics as feed additives, The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act (S. 742/H.R. 2562), sponsored by U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown (D-OH). The bipartisan Senate version of this bill authorizes funds to farmers to help defray costs of phasing out non-therapeutic use of medically important antibiotics, and provides for research and demonstration projects to assist farmers in this transition. More than 380 organizations, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Public Health Association, endorsed nearly identical legislation last year. In April, Environmental Defense, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Food Animal Concerns Trust and Union of Concerned Scientists filed a formal Citizen Petition with the Food and Drug Administration urging the agency to ban seven classes of medically important antibiotics from use as feed additives, and documenting that those uses violate FDA's specific safety standards for antibiotic use.
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