November 20, 2017

WHO Recommends Farmers Stop Using Antibiotics to Promote Growth, Prevent Disease

The World Health Organization issued a news release on November 7, 2017, recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals to help control the development of antibiotic resistance. Antibiotics that are important for human medicine are used in food animals.

Antibiotic Resistance

The effectiveness of antibiotics is reduced when used on farms. In some countries, “approximately 80% of total consumption of medically important antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals,” according to the news release. WHO has been campaigning for these actions to help combat antibiotic resistance for years, and has warned that we are close to an age when antibiotics may become ineffective against human infections. Antibiotic resistant bacteria already sickens 2,000,000 Americans every year.

The release states that over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is “contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance.” Some kinds of bacteria that can cause serious illnesses in people have developed resistance to most or all available antibiotics. There are very few options in the research pipeline.

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

A review that was published in The Lancet Planetary Health found that interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food animals reduced antibiotic resistant bacteria in these animals by up to 39%. This research is the underpinning of WHO’s new guidelines.

WHO wants to see the complete restriction of these antibiotics for promotion of growth and for disease prevention when there is no diagnosis of an illness. And healthy animals should only be given antibiotics to prevent disease if that illness has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd, or fish population.

Instead they want to see sick animals tested to determine the most effective antibiotic to use. And the medicine used in food animals should only be selected from those WHO has listed as being “least important” to human health endnote from those listed as “highest priority critically important.” The latter are often the last line used to treat serious infections in people.

The antibiotics that are considered highest priority include¬†quinolones, 3rd and higher generation cephalosporins, macrolides and ketolides, glycopeptides, and polymyxins (also known as colistin). Those drugs are essential last-resort treatments used in multidrug-resistant human infections. WHO has published a list of “critically important” antimicrobials every year. The drugs are classified into three categories: important, highly important, and critically important.

Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO said in a statement, “Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance. The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”

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