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Survey shows declining use of antibiotics in animals; most are used to treat, control and prevent disease

As questions have been raised about the possible correlation between using antibiotics and problems of antibiotic resistance, more attention has been focused on the amount of antibiotics used in both human and veterinary medicine. In order to provide a factual basis for addressing these issues, the Animal Health Institute (AHI) annually surveys its members on the amount of antibiotics sold to use in animals.

According to the most recent survey, the production of antibiotics for use in animals rose in 2005 to meet growing animal health demands. In 2005, 24.4 million pounds of antibiotics were sold to use in farm and companion animals, up from 21.7 million pounds sold in 2004. These products were used to treat the estimated 8 billion chickens, 264 million turkeys, 103 million pigs, 97 million cattle, 74 million dogs and 90 millions cats in the United States. Only two classes of compounds accounted for the increase:

Ionophores, which are compounds not used in human medicine

Tetracyclines, which are being reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under Guidance 152, the qualitative risk assessment procedure to evaluate the human health risk of using a particular antibiotic. As part of this assessment, the FDA can limit the use of an antibiotic if it believes human health is being jeopardized.

More than 95 percent of the antibiotics used in animals are devoted to treating disease conditions. While there are claims that most antibiotics are “fed to healthy animals,” AHI data proves the contrary. In fact, the total amount of pounds of antibiotics used to maintain animal health and enhance growth dropped to 4.5 percent - down from 5.4 percent in the previous year.

While some groups would like to link the level of animal antibiotic use with the threat of it contributing to human resistance, there is no scientific basis for doing so. In fact, there is consensus that the most difficult and widespread antibiotic resistant bacteria problems faced in human medicine can be attributed to human - not animal - use of antibiotics. A survey of human medical experts estimated that animal antibiotic use contributes to less than 5 percent of the total burden of antibiotic-resistant problems in human medicine (Bywater and Casewell, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, 2000).

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