Agricultural Use of Antibiotics
- The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) estimates that 70% of
all antibiotics used in the United States – more than 24
million pounds per year – are routinely put in the food
and water of healthy livestock. More than half of these drugs
are identical or nearly identical to the antibiotics doctors rely
upon to treat human illnesses. They are given to animals to make
them grow faster on less feed and compensate for the crowded,
unhygienic conditions typically found on today’s industrialized
- Of the over 24 million pounds of antibiotics used per year for
subtherapeutic uses in agriculture, approximately 10.3 million
pounds are used for hogs, 10.5 million pounds are given to poultry,
and 3.7 million pounds are fed to cattle.
- Antibiotics are used in 90% of starter feeds, 75% of grower
feeds, and more than half of finishing feeds for pigs in the U.S.
- The Union of Concerned Scientists estimates that nearly 5 million
pounds of two tetracycline antibiotics are given to healthy swine
each year in the U.S. The volume of these two medicines given
to healthy pigs alone, according to UCS estimates, is sixty percent
greater than the volume of all antibiotics given to sick humans.
- Agricultural use, much of it for growth promotion, accounts
for 40 percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States.
Consequences of the Agricultural Use of Antibiotics
- The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that 70%
of all food-borne illnesses in the United States can be traced
- According to the Federal Drug Administration (FDA), 5000 deaths
and 76 million cases of food-borne illness occur annually.
- Overuse of antibiotics in animals is causing more strains of
drug-resistant bacteria, which is affecting the treatment of various
life-threatening diseases in humans. The Institute of Medicine
at the National Academy of Sciences has estimated that the annual
cost of treating antibiotic-resistant infections in the United
States is $30 billion.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate
that there are two to four million Campylobacter
infections per year, resulting in as many as 250 deaths each year
in the United States. Furthermore, about one in a thousand Campylobacter
infections leads to Guillan-Barre syndrome, a disease that can
cause paralysis. There is evidence that Campylobacter
is becoming resistant to fluoroquinolones due to their use in
poultry which the FDA approved for poultry use only a few years
- Every year, approximately 40,000 cases of Salmonella
are reported in the United States. Salmonella
is also showing high rates of antibiotic resistance.
- Each year in the United States an estimated 73,000 people suffer
from E. coli O157:H7 infections.
Antibiotic-resistant strains of E. coli
O157:H7 in humans are correlated with antibiotic use in cattle.
Subtherapeutic Use vs. Therapeutic Use of Antibiotics
- The subtherapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters (low
level doses of antibiotics – less than 50 milligrams per
ton of animal) can enhance the productive efficiency of animals.
This type of use has also been shown to:
- Increase the daily body weight gain;
- Improve the food-to-weight gain ratio;
- Increase the voluntary intake of food; and
- Decrease both illness and morbidity.
- The therapeutic use of antibiotics is solely to treat the bacterial
infections an animal or group of animals may have. Doses are typically
larger and are administered for a specific portion of time.
Many popular fast food chains have issued statements that they
will not purchase meat from suppliers who engage in the subtherapeutic
use of antibiotics. Here are a few of the letters:
Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grills
and Green Burrito Restaurants
The suppliers to CKE Restaurants, Inc., the parent company of
Hardee’s, Carl’s Jr., La Salsa Fresh Mexican Grills
and Green Burrito Restaurants, do not use any antibiotics for
growth promotion or prophylactic purposes. All of our poultry
suppliers have totally eliminated the use of fluoroquinolones.
Our policy is to only purchase from suppliers who guarantee they
produce chicken without the nontherapeutic use of medically important
antibiotics. Additionally, we purchase poultry only from companies
who guarantee they produce without the use of fluoroquinolones…
CKE Restaurants, Inc. has always been a leader in food safety
and we are committed to protecting the public’s health.
– Letter to “Keep Antibiotics
Working,” July 19, 2002
“KFC does not purchase poultry treated nontherapeutically
with medically important antibiotics.” – Letter
to “Keep Antibiotics Working,” August 28, 2002
‘We’ve listened to the concerns, studied the issue,
and the bottom line was we thought it was the right thing to do
to discontinue the use of [fluoroquinolone antibiotics] in poultry,’
said Walt Riker, spokesman for Oak Brook-based McDonald’s.
– Walt Riker, McDonald’s, “Chickens
Fed With Antibiotics McGone,” Chicago Sun-Times, February
We feel this is an important issue and will not knowingly buy
chicken that has been treated with fluoroquinolones… Subway
Restaurants has received statements from its chicken vendors who
verify that they are not using fluoroquinolones antibiotics, nor
are they using medically important antibiotics in healthy animals.
Thank you for contacting us and letting us communicate our position.
Good luck in your work to reduce antibiotic use! – Letter
to “Keep Antibiotics Working,” April 24, 2002
“McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Popeye’s are now
refusing to buy chicken that has been treated with [fluoroquinolones].”
– “Poultry Industry Quietly Cuts
Back on Antibiotic Use,” New York Times, February 10, 2002