Published: Thu, November 09, 2017
Health Care | By Oscar Goodwin

USDA chief scientist expresses concerns on World Health Organization animal antibiotic guidelines

USDA chief scientist expresses concerns on World Health Organization animal antibiotic guidelines

The new World Health Organization recommendations are aimed at helping to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine, by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.

These guidelines are tighter than the current policies of the US Food and Drug Administration, which has banned the use of antibiotics for animal growth, but allows veterinarians to prescribe the medicines for disease prevention. When it comes to quantity, the amount of antibiotics used on farms is far more than what is used by people in many countries, such as the United States.

Antibiotics that are used in animals are either identical or very similar to antibiotics used in humans, which is why they contribute to the increase in infections among humans who don't respond to the drugs. This research directly informed the development of WHO's new guidelines.

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The second statement advises that "medically important antimicrobials that are not now used in food production should not be used in future production including food-producing animals or plants", acknowledging that although the guidelines focus on livestock rather than plants, using antibiotics on plants also contributes to antimicrobial resistance that can be transferred to humans. America's pork farmers share the WHO's concern about the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is why they have taken steps over the past 30 years to ensure they're using antibiotics strategically and responsibly to keep animals healthy and to produce safe food.

The WHO said that in some countries, 80 percent of medically important antibiotics consumed are used in the food animal production sector. Animal agricultural groups were quick to point out that U.S. farmers are taking a judicious look at antibiotic use, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's acting chief scientist echoed similar thoughts in a statement later in the day Tuesday. The overall objective is to encourage prudent use to slow down antimicrobial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of the most critical antibiotics for medicine.

In its updated guidelines, World Health Organization says that animals that are reared for their meat, milk or eggs should only be treated with antibiotics if they are actually sick, or if there is an infection among their herd, flock or shoal.

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Antibiotics that are considered to be in the last line of defence for humans should not be used at all it says.

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA acting chief scientist, said, "The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with USA policy and are not supported by sound science". Consumers are also driving the demand for meat raised without routine use of antibiotics, with some major food chains adopting "antibiotic-free" policies for their meat supplies.

Since 2005, the World Health Organization has published a list of critically important antimicrobials for human medicine that is regularly revised.

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"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", she added.

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