WHO Releases Official Guidelines on Use of Antibiotics in Livestock

WHO Releases Official Guidelines on Use of Antibiotics in Livestock
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The World Health Organization released a guidance Tuesday calling for changes in the use of antibiotics in livestock around the world. The WHO says the new guidance, “Guideline on Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals,” will be a “game-changer” in the fight against antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections.

The guidance calls for significant changes to current policies, including a general reduction of medically important antibiotics in livestock, a ban on using antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in otherwise healthy animals, and a restriction of the use of antibiotics identified by the WHO as “critically important for humans” in animals.

The WHO also released an accompanying policy brief outlining its vision for the implementation of the recommendations.

In the U.S., the FDA has already banned medically important antibiotics from being used for growth promotion, a ruling that went into effect earlier this year; the WHO would also encourage the USDA to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock by 25 percent.

“We know this level of reduction is very doable,” says the NRDC. “Since 2009 the Netherlands, an important European livestock producer, has reduced its overall use of agricultural antibiotics by 64 percent.”

Two million Americans suffer from drug-resistant infections every year, and more than 23,000 die from these infections. Experts warn that these drug-resistant bacteria develop in large part due to the overuse of antibiotics in livestock; about 70 percent of medically important antibiotics in the U.S. are sold for use in farm animals.

“A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director general of the WHO, said in a statement. “Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.”

While several chicken producers and purveyors have committed to reducing antibiotic use in the American poultry supply, the NRDC criticizes the beef and pork industries for not being as reactive to the problem.

The National Pork Producers Council came out against the guidance, calling it “ill-advised and wrong.” The Council claims that “using antibiotics to prevent disease, in most cases, supplants the need to use more potent medically important antibiotics to treat disease.”

Many experts, however, note that the preventative use of antibiotics in livestock would not be necessary if animals did not have to endure such abhorrent living conditions, dubbed “stressful, crowded, [and] unsanitary” by the Animal Welfare Institute.

The release of the guidance coincides with World Antibiotics Awareness Week, which begins on November 13.

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Emily Monaco
Emily Monaco

Emily Monaco is an American food and culture writer based in Paris. She loves uncovering the stories behind ingredients and exposing the face of our food system, so that consumers can make educated choices. Her work has been published in the Wall Street Journal, Vice Munchies, and Serious Eats.