Ross Kelly


US data shows 3% decline in 2020, though pandemic may have muddied the picture


Quantities of antimicrobial drugs sold for use in food animals in the United States have fallen, ending a two-year run of increases and cooling concerns that a longer-term downward trend was abating.

Regulators advocate careful use of drugs because overuse can contribute to antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, which occurs when pathogenic microbes evolve to withstand treatments meant to kill them.

Scientists consider AMR a major threat to humankind, should common infections now considered easily managed become untreatable.

Sales for use in production animals of “medically important” antimicrobials, which are drugs also used in human medicine, fell to 6,002,056 kilograms of active ingredient in 2020, a 3% drop from 2019 sales, the US Food and Drug Administration  reported  this week.

The drop reversed a 3% rise recorded in the previous year and brought the decrease since 2015, which was the peak year of sales, to 38%. “This suggests that continued efforts to support the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals are having an impact,” the FDA said.

Sales of all antimicrobial drugs for food-producing animals, including non-medically important treatments, fell by 9% in 2020 compared with 2019.

Demand across the board had fallen sharply in 2017 after the FDA banned the use of antimicrobials for promoting growth in livestock. The regulator also prohibited over-the-counter use in animal feed and water, while requiring oversight by veterinarians. A partial, temporary rebound in sales was expected post-2017 as people adjusted to the new requirements.

The resumption of a fall in sales in 2020, however, occurred amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is having a complex influence on food supply and demand. During most countries’ lockdowns, the supply of food was considered an essential service , and demand for groceries jumped as people spent more time cooking at home. Conversely, demand from the hospitality sector fell and supply-chain disruptions caused by workers isolating at home prompted some abattoirs to reduce operating capacity and cull throngs of livestock.

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