Sales of antibiotics used to treat, prevent and control disease and maintain animal health rose 7.5% in 2004, according to data provided by animal health manufacturers and distributors.

Last year, 21.7 million lb. of antibiotics were sold for use in farm and companion animals, an increase from 20.2 million lb. sold in 2003. Antibiotic production has trended down since 1999, when 24.4 million lb. were sold.

The data was collected from a survey of members of the Animal Health Institute (AHI), companies that make medicines for farm animals and pets.

As antibiotic use has declined, meat production has risen, pointing to greater production efficiencies in livestock herds.

“Antibiotic use in animals is a function of the number of animals and the scope of disease outbreaks farmers and ranchers must deal with in their flocks and herds,” says Alexander S. Mathews, AHI president and CEO. “Without these important life-saving antibiotic products, death and suffering among livestock, poultry and companion animals would increase.”

Each year AHI survey respondents provide an assessment of the amount of veterinary antibiotics sold for therapeutic use and health maintenance purposes. The percentage of antibiotic sales reported as therapeutic was 83% in 2001, have risen each year since and reached 95% in 2004.

“These data stand in stark contrast to the ‘estimates’ some have offered regarding antibiotic use,” says Mathews. The 5% of antibiotics used for health maintenance represent 1,175,226 lb. of use. Of that amount, 758,969 lb. are compounds with little or no use in human medicine, including ionophores and arsenicals. The remaining 416,257 lb. of use are comprised of four compounds, all of which have been or are being evaluated by risk assessments.

“Antibiotics are being used carefully and judiciously to protect both animal and human health,” he says. “Risk assessment efforts and resources have been prioritized to address those compounds of greatest concern. To date, those risk assessments have shown miniscule levels of risk that are far outweighed by the benefits to animal and human health.”