The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a September 2011 report claiming that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have failed to obtain credible data on the use of antibiotics in food animals, as well as the presence of resistant bacteria in animals and retail meat. After examining the extent to which U.S. agencies have addressed this area of concern, GAO apparently found major gaps in the information needed to understand how livestock antibiotics can contribute “to the emergence of resistant bacteria that may affect humans.” In particular, the report faulted the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to adequately monitor a 2010 voluntary strategy designed to limit “approved uses of antibiotics” and increase “veterinary supervision of use.” According to GAO, “FDA does not collect the antibiotic use data, including the purpose of use, needed to measure the strategy’s effectiveness.”  

The report also points to proactive measures taken by the European Union, which banned the use of antibiotics to promote animal growth in 1995, while praising the extensive data collection activities that have allowed Danish officials to track antibiotic resistance in retail meat, food animals and humans. “Some of their experiences may offer lessons for the United States,” concludes the report’s executive summary. “GAO recommends that HHS and USDA (1) identify and evaluate approaches to collecting detailed data on antibiotic use in animals and use these data to evaluate FDA’s voluntary strategy, (2) collect more representative data on resistance, and (3) assess previous efforts on alternatives to identify where more research is needed.”