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Antibiotics Roundup: The Latest News on the use of Non-therapeutic Antibiotics for Livestock

Antibiotics Roundup: The Latest News on the use of Non-therapeutic Antibiotics for Livestock

Dietetic Intern Leah Gorham provides an update on recent news around the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics for livestock.

Antibiotic resistance is a serious public health concern that we are hearing more and more about due to the increase in antibiotic resistant infections. According to the CDC, at least 2 million people in the U.S. become infected with antibiotic resistant bacteria each year and at least 23,000 people die from these infections. The overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals is one of the main causes of this problem. Antibiotics sold for use in livestock, which increased by 16% since 2009, have been commonly used for non-therapeutic uses, such as preventing the spread of disease in crowded living conditions or growth promotion.

In 2013, the FDA issued Guidance #213, which asked drug companies to voluntarily remove growth promotion as an indicated use from the product labels of medically important antimicrobials given to animals and increase veterinary oversight. Although the guidance is voluntary, it is an important step forward in the effort to regulate the use of antimicrobial drugs for food-producing animals.

Consumers Demand Change and Industry Takes Notice

A key factor in changing the way antibiotics are used in our food system is increasing consumer concern about antibiotic resistance and the demand for transparency. In a 2012 survey by Consumer Reports, 86% of respondents agreed that customers should be able to buy meat and poultry raised without the use of antibiotics at their local grocery stores.

Industry has taken notice of this shift and food service operators are taking action. Many small operations and some chains, such as Panera and Chipotle, were ahead of the curve and have served antibiotic free chicken and meat products for years. Perdue, the largest antibiotic-free chicken producer in the U.S., began making changes to their policies regarding antibiotics over 10 years ago.

Recently, more companies have announced intentions to change their practices in this area. In 2014, Chick-fil-A announced plans to use chicken raised without the use of antibiotics in all of its restaurants within five years. McDonald’s, one of the largest chicken buyers in the U.S., announced this month that they will begin using chickens raised without antibiotics used to treat humans over the next two years. Costco also announced this month that they are working towards discontinuing the sale of chicken and meat raised with medically important antibiotics. However, it unclear whether companies will take steps to eliminate the use of antibiotics all together (not just drugs used to treat humans), how long it will take to make changes across large supply chains, and what actions will be taken to ensure transparency in the process.

The Take-away

Changing the way antibiotics are used for the production of meat and poultry will not happen overnight and will require action from many avenues. At SPE, we encourage the use of smaller portions of animal protein raised without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics, promoting health on both an individual and larger scale. Hopefully, the recent announcements from major food chains indicate a growing shift in the industry and encourage large producers of meat and poultry to change their practices. As consumers and food service operators, we can continue to do our part to encourage sustainable practices by purchasing animal products raised without the use of non-therapeutic antibiotics from reputable sources and sharing our knowledge with others.

sustainability, non-dairy milk


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