WHO: Stop using antibiotics in healthy animals

Meat & Poultry, Nov. 8, 2017 - by Erica Shaffer
The global health agency aims to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics important to human medicine.

GENEVA – The World Health Organization (WHO) urged livestock producers to stop using antibiotics in healthy animals for growth promotion and disease prevention in its guidelines on the use of antibiotics that are medically important to human medicine to curb the rise of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria.

The guidelines are derived from evidence-based recommendations and best practice statements on the use of medically important antimicrobials identified by WHO as critically important antimicrobials for human medicine that are used in food-producing animals. The agency maintains and regularly updates a list of Critically Important Antimicrobials for Human Medicine (WHO CIA List), which underwent its fifth revision this year.

In the guidelines, WHO advocates:

  • An overall reduction in use of all classes of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals;
  • Complete restriction of use of all classes of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals for growth promotion; and
  • Complete restriction of use of all classes of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals for prevention of infectious diseases that have not yet been clinically diagnosed, among other recommendations.

WHO characterized the growing prevalence of antimicrobial resistance as a global problem with severe consequences for public health. “Although many factors contribute to the rise in antimicrobial resistance in bacteria infecting humans, antimicrobial use in both humans and food-producing animals is an important contributor,” WHO explained.

In 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration 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 while requiring veterinarian oversight of antimicrobials that are regarded as medically important. The rules limit the use of medically important antimicrobials to cases that require them for animal health reasons.

As a result, stakeholders in the United States’ meat and poultry industry already have taken steps to reduce, and in some cases, eliminate, the use of antibiotics in livestock produced for food. For example, Springdale, Arkansas-based Tyson Foods Inc. recently announced the transition of 87 foodservice products to no antibiotics ever in addition to transitioning the company’s entire consumer branded chicken line to be sourced from birds raised without antibiotics ever.