Figures released for the first time reveal the extent to which drugs have become a daily part of meat-rearing stateside.
The precise amount of antibiotics administered to cattle, pigs, sheep and chickens – an astonishing 28.7 million pounds or just over 13 million kilograms last year alone – has not previously been recorded.
The figures would still not be known had Congress not declared in 2008 that all meat producers have a legal responsibility to declare usage – information whose release the meat industry fought hard to prevent.
Antibiotics are routinely used on healthy animals in large-scale factory farms in the US in order to promote growth and guard against diseases that would otherwise decimate such densely housed populations of animals. Factory-farming would be unsustainable without the heavy use of antibiotics.
The FDA cautioned meat producers against the use of antibiotics on such a scale in June, for fears that it will contribute further to an escalating problem with drug-resistant diseases in humans, such as MRSA and dangerous strains of E. coli and salmonella.
The US meat industry fears tough new laws will be introduced in the US in coming months will reduce its ability to factory-farm effectively.