WHO Guidelines on Antibiotics in Conflict With Science, USDA Says

Drovers CattleNetwork, Greg Henderson November 8, 2017
The World Health Organization, in direct conflict with U.S. policy, released recommendations regarding the use of antibiotics in agriculture. The WHO’s new guidelines are aimed at curbing the rise of global antibiotic resistance, and WHO asks the world’s farmers to help by changing the way they raise their animals.

Specifically, the WHO’s new guidelines detail how farmers should use “medically important” antibiotics, noting that many farmers have been overusing antibiotics on animals to promote growth and prevent illness. That overuse, WHO says, has led to the development of new strains of infectious bacteria that have become resistant to modern medicines.

However, the WHO guidelines immediately drew criticism from the U.S.

“The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science,” said Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA Acting Chief Scientist. “The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals.”

The WHO’s report was released more than a year after the U.N. General Assembly elevated the antibiotic resistance issue to a crisis level similar to HIV, Ebola and the rise of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease. WHO sees the agricultural sector as critical in the fight to keep antibiotics from becoming obsolete.

Yet the new guidelines do not square-up with the science, according to the USDA. In a statement, Jacobs-Young said:

“The WHO previously requested that the standards for on-farm antibiotic use in animals be updated through a transparent, consensus, science-based process of CODEX. However, before the first meeting of the CODEX was held, the WHO released these guidelines, which according to language in the guidelines are based on ‘low-quality evidence,’ and in some cases, ‘very low-quality evidence.'”

“Under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy, medically important antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion in animals. In the U.S., the FDA allows for the use of antimicrobial drugs in treating, controlling, and preventing disease in food-producing animals under the professional oversight of licensed veterinarians. While the WHO guidelines acknowledge the role of veterinarians, they would also impose unnecessary and unrealistic constraints on their professional judgement.”

“USDA agrees that we need more data to assess progress on antimicrobial use and resistance, and we need to continue to develop alternative therapies for the treatment, control, and prevention of disease in animals. We remain committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance in people and animals. We will continue to work with the WHO, World Organization for Animal Health, and Food and Agriculture Organization to promote antibiotic stewardship to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.”