"Careful and judicious use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy contributes to the safety of our food supply," said Alexander S. Mathews, AHI president and CEO. "This annual data continues to demonstrate that antibiotics are used prudently and with increasing efficiency."
This is, of course, a controversial issue. In a recent editorial in Science, professor Stanley Falkow and Donald Kennedy argued the case for terminating the use of certain antibiotics being added to animal feeds in the United States to promote the growth of livestock.
"Both humans and animals are heir to related bacterial pathogens; indeed, most human bacterial pathogens can be traced in evolution to microbes that infect animals," they stated.
"Nearly half of the total volume of antibiotics used in the United States is fed to animals, and this practice continues despite a strong scientific consensus that it is a bad idea. The resulting struggle between good science and strong politics has simmered fruitlessly for a quarter of a century; it's time to end it."
But many involved in the meat processing industry argue that the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry can be highly beneficial. In a reply to Falkow and Kennedy, Daniel M. Byrd, Anthony Cox Jr., and James D. Wilson wrote that antibiotics can reduce the cost of meat and the numbers of infective microbes in food.
"People are healthier as a result," they argued. "The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should develop an approach to managing antibiotic use that allows us to reap the benefits of these drugs while maximising their effectiveness. Recent Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data now being analysed might allow the FDA to do so."
Notable in this year's AHI survey is the dramatic drop in the small portion of antibiotics used for health maintenance. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves antibiotics for use in animal husbandry for four basic purposes: disease treatment, disease control, disease prevention, and health maintenance, as measured by improved growth rates or more efficient feed use.
Health maintenance claims have commonly been called growth promotion. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) considers treatment, control and prevention of disease to be therapeutic uses. Therapeutic use of antibiotics to treat, control and prevent disease rose to more than 90 per cent of total use, despite claims by some that a majority of antibiotics are fed unnecessarily to healthy animals.
AHI survey respondents provide an assessment each year of the amount of veterinary antibiotics sold for therapeutic use and health maintenance purposes. The percentage of veterinary antibiotics use reported as therapeutic was 88 per cent in 2000, 83 per cent in 2001 and 91 per cent in 2002.