Antibiotics in Farm Animals Soar in Developing World

Perhaps you thought that use of antibiotics in farm animals was headed in the right direction — down. We did. Apparently we were wrong. Despite recent encouraging news in the U.S., a new publication in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences (PNAS) documents soaring use of antibiotics for the production of meat in the developing world. Between 2010 and 2030, the authors estimate that:

For Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, the increase in antimicrobial consumption will be 99%, up to seven times the projected population growth in this group of countries.

European countries banned routine use of antibiotics to promote growth of food animals in 2006. FDA acted in 2013 to phase out such use of antibiotics gradually. Just a few weeks ago, McDonald’s announced a ban in the U.S. on chicken treated with antibiotics used for humans.

But the new analysis in PNAS demonstrates that these are only baby steps that will do little to change the trend line of growing antibiotic use in the global meat supply. The trend is driven by increasing demand for animal protein in the developing world and the cost savings produced by using antibiotics to promote faster livestock growth. In total, the authors estimate that global use of antibiotics in farm animals will grow 67% by 2030.

The trouble is the long-term cost of environmental damage and antibiotic resistance that will result. Senior author Ramanan Laxminarayan says, “The implications for the effectiveness of our antibiotics could be quite devastating.” In the U.S. alone, CDC estimates that 23,000 deaths per year are attributable to infections with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Small steps in developed countries will not be sufficient. These data make it clear that global solutions are needed.

Click here to read more from NPR and here to read the study.

Piggies, photograph © Chiot’s Run / flickr

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