Earlier this summer, the Food and Drug Administration issued a draft document calling for an end to the common practice of pumping farm animals full of unnecessary antibiotics. This month, the FDA has, for the first time, revealed the true extent of antimicrobial drug use by the American livestock industry.

The numbers are staggering. U.S. livestock were fed about 29 million pounds of antibiotics in 2009. That’s quite a bit higher than the previous 17.8 million pound estimate released by veterinary drug trade group, The Animal Health Institute.

However, the FDA numbers echo a similar report released by the Union of Concerned Scientists in 2001 called Hogging It. The UCS report found that “25 million pounds of antimicrobials were used in one year in only three sectors — cattle, swine and poultry — for non-therapeutic purposes such as promoting growth and preventing disease in animals forced to live in crowded, unsanitary conditions.” They estimate 70 percent of antibiotics and related drugs used in the United States are given to livestock for nontherapeutic uses.

“Antimicrobial use in U.S. agriculture is way out of proportion [to what is necessary],” Mardi Mellon, director of UCS’ Food and Environment program, told the Los Angeles Times.

A big problem with pumping farm animals full of antibiotics is that it can lead to new viruses that are resistant to existing antibiotics. This summer, the  American Medical Association called antibiotic resistance “a major public health problem” and called on the Obama administration and Congress to do something about this issue, such as pass the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

Nearly 300 organizations have signed on in support of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, including dozens of major health, agricultural and humane organizations. But notably absent is the American Veterinary Medical Association, who says they don’t believe the threat of antibiotic abuse is real.

Big Ag would like people to think they give livestock massive doses of antibiotics out of some sort Old McDonald-esque concern for the animals’ welfare. This, like so much else they say, is not true. Animals destined for the dinner plate are kept in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions on factory farms, and thus tend to get sick quite often. Also, they are fed unhealthy diets to make them grow bigger faster. These diets can make animals very sick or even kill them, and only the use of antibiotics keeps them alive long enough to be fattened up and taken to slaughter.

Antibiotics are used by the livestock industry purely out of greed. Yet we all might end up paying the price for “cheap meat” with the rise of so-called super bugs.

The new FDA report shows just how widespread the problem is. For the sake of animal and human health, veterinarians shouldn’t be standing in the way of regulation. Ask the American Veterinary Medical Association to support the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act.

Photo Credit: Farm Sanctuary