The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has urged USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to work with livestock and poultry producers to collect more detailed data on the use of antibiotics in food animals. The agencies should also improve their sampling of antibiotic resistance in food animals and retail meat products, GAO said.

“Without detailed use data and representative resistance data, agencies cannot examine trends and understand the relationship between use and resistance,” GAO said in a report requested by Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY), the senior Democrat on the House Rules Committee and a longtime advocate of tighter restrictions on the use of antibiotics in food animals.

GAO, which is an agency of Congress, did not suggest that the executive branch agencies need any new legal powers to monitor antibiotic usage, suggesting only that they work within “their existing authorities” to collect more data.

USDA and FDA should figure out how to get more detailed data on “the species in which antibiotics are used and the purpose of their use, as well as the costs, time frames, and potential trade-offs associated with each approach” and collaborate with industry to select the best one, GAO said.  The agencies should ask Congress for any “resources necessary to implement the approach” and use the data to assess the effectiveness of policies intended to reduce antibiotic resistance, GAO said.

The agency also urged USDA and FDA to improve their jointly operated monitoring program–the National Antibiotic Resistance Monitoring System–to make the data more representative of resistance patterns in food animals and retail meat products.

“Collecting data on antibiotic use in food animals can be challenging and costly, but without an approach to collecting more detailed data, USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services cannot track the effectiveness of policies they undertake to curb resistance,” GAO said.

The GAO report is available at