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WHO Calls for Ban on Antibiotic Use for Disease Prevention in Food-Producing Animals

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

(North American Meat Institute)

The World Health Organization (WHO) released new guidelines concerning antibiotic use in food-producing animals, recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using medically-important antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. Instead, WHO recommends healthy animals only receive antibiotics to prevent illness if a disease has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd or fish population. When animals receive treatment, WHO encourages veterinarians to select antibiotics that the agency classifies as "least important" to human health. Antibiotics classified by WHO as "highest priority critically important" should never be used to treat diagnosed diseases in animals, according to the guidelines.

WHO is calling on governments to ban the use in animals of newly developed antibiotics intended for use in people. WHO's guidelines are not mandatory or legally-binding.

Meanwhile, a WHO-funded systematic review published in The Lancet Planetary Health concluded that implementing restrictions on antibiotic use could reduce antibiotic-resistant bacteria in food-producing animals by as much as 39 percent. This research directly informed the development of WHO's new recommendations.

In a statement following WHO's announcement, the Meat Institute expressed opposition to the agency's endorsement of a blanket ban on administering antibiotics to prevent disease in food-producing animals, calling WHO's recommendation "short-sighted."

USDA Acting Chief Scientist Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young was also critical of the WHO's recommendation saying, "The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science. The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals."

"Banning using antibiotics to prevent diseases could allow those diseases to take hold in herds and ultimately result in using more antibiotics to treat a disease that could have been prevented," the Meat Institute's statement read. "Veterinarians should not have their hands tied by a blanket ban. Rather, they should be permitted to exercise sound medical judgment in determining what is best for the health of the animal and the health of the herd."

The Food and Drug Administration in 2015 issued the Veterinary Feed Directive final rule aimed at promoting the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. Guidelines 209 and 213 prohibit the use of medically-important antimicrobials for growth promotion and require veterinarian oversight of antimicrobials that are regarded as medically important. Livestock producers and meat packers and processors support, and have implemented, this FDA guidance.

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