March 30, 2015 / 11:05 AM / 4 years ago

U.S. plans to dig deeper on antibiotics given to livestock

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The U.S. government next year plans to begin collecting more detailed data on antibiotics used on farms in a potential precursor to set targets for reduced use of the drugs in animals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is waiting for approval of federal funding to add questions about antibiotics to annual surveys of livestock producers as part of a bid to determine the most-complete national usage estimates ever in cattle, hogs and poultry, according to the agency.

The data drive comes amid increasing concerns among researchers about the deadly problem of antibiotic resistance in humans. An estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States are administered to livestock, not to people, but existing government surveys collect limited information about usage on farms.

The enhanced surveys are expected to ask producers which livestock were given antibiotics and why, according to the Animal Health Institute, which represents pharmaceutical companies like Zoetis Inc and Elanco, the animal-health division of Eli Lilly and Co. The responses could then be used as a baseline to set targets for reduced use.

Consumer and environmental groups said a White House report issued on Friday failed to sufficiently address animal antibiotics and have called for objectives to cut usage.

“We do know how much antibiotics are sold for food animals in total, but until we have information on which animals they are used in and for what reasons, it is difficult to come up with realistic and reasonable goals,” said Gail Hansen, a senior officer for Pew Charitable Trusts’ antibiotic resistance project, which works to prevent overuse of antibiotics in food production.

A key component of USDA’s plan, proposed in a report last year, will be comparing antibiotic usage before and after the implementation of U.S. guidelines for producers to voluntarily phase out antibiotic use as a growth enhancer in livestock.

The comparison is important because environmental groups like the Natural Resources Defense Council say producers and veterinarians may cite disease prevention as a reason to continue administering the same antibiotics after the guidelines take effect at the end of next year.

The USDA “continues to strengthen its efforts” against antibiotic resistance, a spokeswoman said.

Some restaurants and meat producers are not waiting for more government action before moving away from antibiotics. McDonald’s Corp said U.S. restaurants will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics vital to fighting human infections.

Additional reporting by Lisa Baertlein in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernard Orr

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