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WHO Recommends Sharp Reduction in Use of Antibiotics in Animal Agriculture

November 07, 2017
Center for Food Safety

Global health body says food animal industry must stop using antibiotics for growth promotion

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, the World Health Organization (WHO) came out strongly against misuse of medically important antibiotics in food animal production. The global health body released new Guidelines on Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals, stating that “If no action is taken today, by 2050, almost all current antibiotics will be ineffective in preventing and treating human disease, and the costs of losing these drugs will exceed US$ 100 trillion in terms of national productivity.”

The new guidelines make four clear, critical recommendations for national governments and the global food animal industry:

  1. Reduce overall use of all medically important antimicrobials in food animals.
  2. Fully prohibit use of all medically important antimicrobials in food animals for growth promotion.
  3. Fully prohibit use of all medically important antimicrobials in food animals for preventing infectious diseases that have not yet been clinically diagnosed by a veterinarian.
  4. Prevent use of critically important antibiotics in food animals for disease control and use of highest priority critically important antibiotics in food animals for disease treatment.

The latter two recommendations set a critical precedent for food animal producers in the U.S.  Namely, it establishes a clear, complete prohibition on use of medically important antibiotics for disease prevention and encourages significant limitations on using critically important and the highest priority drugs.

In contrast, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to consider routine administration of antibiotics for disease prevention to be a “judicious use” of the drugs, despite conclusive evidence nationally and internationally that the administering routine, non-therapeutic antibiotics to food animals is contributing to a public health crisis.

“We have consistently advocated for FDA to better align domestic policies with the WHO and to take stronger measures to restrict and reduce use of antibiotics in food animals raised in the U.S.,” says Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic & Animal Policy. “The new guidelines illustrate the degree to which our regulators and large food animal producers are falling short.”

In its announcement, WHO reinforced that “scientific evidence clearly demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance.” Without achieving significant, measurable reductions in their use in food animals, we cannot hope to effectively curb the spread of resistant bacteria and preserve the efficacy of medicines needed to treat human illness.

The guidelines also provide two best practices for the industry moving forward: any new antimicrobials or antimicrobial combinations developed for use in humans must be considered critically important for human medicine, and, medically important antimicrobials not currently used in food production should not be directed to this use in the future.

The onus of these practices falls mostly on the pharmaceutical and veterinary industry and not on the food animal producers themselves.

“We are glad to see these strong recommendations from the WHO,” said Harsh. “We also believe that all food animal production must meet a high standard of animal welfare. CFS will continue to advocate for best practices that includes stocking densities that allow for full freedom of movement and expression, adequate access to sunlight and the outdoors, appropriate and nutritious diets, and breeding for traits that prioritize health and immunity benefits over growth and productivity.”

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