Attempts by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to decrease the widespread use of antibiotics in livestock production have seldom succeeded.

An effort to prohibit cephalosporins like Cefzil and Keflex in 2008 was stopped by frenzied lobbyists from the egg, chicken, turkey, milk, pork and cattle industries, who claimed they could not “farm” without the drugs.

Their trade groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Animal Health Institute (AHI) also put pressure on the FDA, which backed down.1

In 2014, the FDA again tried to regulate antibiotics, floating a new plan in which drug makers voluntarily agree to remove “growth promotion and feed efficiency” as approved uses on livestock antibiotic labels so the drugs would only be used in cases of sickness and under the care of veterinarians.2

While drug makers have until the end of 2016 to make the voluntary changes, so far results are very disappointing and use has actually gone up rather than down.

Antibiotic Use in Livestock Is on the Rise

Antibiotics, as they are traditionally used, allow meat producers to add weight on animals for less money because they make feed absorption more efficient. They also prevent disease outbreaks in crowded and extreme housing conditions.

According to the FDA’s 2014 Summary Report on Antimicrobials Sold or Distributed for Use in Food-Producing Animals,3 domestic sales and distribution of cephalosporins for food-producing animals increased by 57 percent between 2009 through 2014.

Lincosamide antibiotics like clindamycin increased by 150 percent and aminoglycoside antibiotics like gentamicin by 36 percent. (Aminoglycosides can have such serious side effects in humans; they are considered a last resort drug.)4

Clearly, unless livestock makers are waiting until the last minute, the FDA’s voluntary controls are having no positive effect and may even be having a negative one.

Allowing “disease prevention” to be an approved use may actually be a loophole “big enough to allow farmers to continue with what they have been doing all along [and] raising concerns that the FDA’s plan will not amount to much,” says Scientific American.5