Antibiotic use in Agriculture: Last Year’s News and This Year’s Updates


Illinois Public Interest Research Group (Illinois PRIG)



As it should have, COVID-19 dominated medical efforts in 2021, but in addition to our coronavirus work, PIRG kept up the good fight in other crucial battles to protect public health. Our crusade against antibiotic-resistant “superbugs,” which could cause the next pandemic, had its ups and downs throughout the last year. As 2022 starts, it’s a good time to reflect on the biggest news on antibiotic resistance, and look forward.


News from 2021


Antibiotic sales dip, but only slightly


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released its much-anticipated annual report, the 2020 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals, in mid-December.  It shows that sales of medically important antibiotics for use in cattle, swine and poultry dropped only 3% between 2019-2020 after increasing the two prior years. Overall sales dropped 27% from 2011 through 2020, a welcome reduction, but in order to meaningfully address antibiotic resistance we need to see at least a 50 percent reduction from those levels. That would put the U.S. on par with actions already taken in the United Kingdom and the European Union. Unfortunately, the 2020 data shows efforts to reduce antibiotic use have stalled.


The FDA report highlights how well the chicken industry is doing versus other meat producers. Out of all medically important antibiotics sold for agricultural use, chicken production accounts for 2%, compared to 41% for both cattle and swine, and 12% for turkey.


Report shows livestock sales of medically important antibiotics are double those for humans


Overuse and misuse of antibiotics in any context can lead to the development and proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. NRDC and the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy released a joint analysis that compared sales of medically important antibiotics in the United States for use in livestock production and human medicine. It showed that antibiotic sales for use in human medicine have stayed relatively consistent since 2009, even decreasing slightly in 2017. The combined sales of medically important antibiotics for pigs and cattle are 55% higher than sales of those same drugs in human medicine. Overall, medically important drug sales for livestock are nearly double those for human medicine.


Wendy’s commits to cut routine use of medically important antibiotics


With encouragement from PIRG and the Antibiotics Off the Menu coalition, Wendy’s committed to end all routine use of medically important antibiotics in its meat supplies by the end of 2030. Although the company should aim to achieve the goal more quickly, Wendy’s commitment to a timeline is a major step in the right direction.


Looking forward to 2022


Major progress in the European Union ...


Holding McDonald’s accountable to its commitment


Our mission: preserve our life-saving medicines ...


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