Ag Policy Blog

USDA, NPPC Rebuke WHO Over New Antibiotic Guidelines

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The World Health Organization on Tuesday gave its support to efforts to stop the use of antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals.

The WHO's guidelines led to a rebuke by the acting chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as criticism from the National Pork Producers Council.

The WTO cited that in some countries as much as 80% of consumption of medically-important antibiotics are in the livestock sector, mainly for growth promotion. That overuse of both animals and humans is contributing to antibiotic resistance. The WTO noted there are already types of bacteria that have developed resistance to most or all available treatments.

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

The WHO stated it "strongly recommends an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, including complete restriction of these antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis."

Because of the decline in the effectiveness of antibiotics, the American Medical Association has policy calling for "continued education on the appropriate use of antimicrobial agents as well as bringing an end to the practice of using medically-important antibiotics for growth promotion in animals."…

USDA issued a statement Tuesday afternoon from Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA acting chief scientist, that refuted the WHO's guidelines but also acknowledged the need to find alternative therapies to treat animals.

“The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science. The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals," Jacobs-Young stated.

She added that the WHO released the guidelines before going through the CODEX process. Jacobs-Young also cited the FDA policy for antibiotic use, which does not go as far as the WHO recommendations.

“Under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy, medically important antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion in animals," Jacobs-Young stated. "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."

Jacobs-Young added, “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.”

The National Pork Producers Council said, "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." Still, NPPC criticized the WTO's guidelines.

"A ban on disease prevention uses of antibiotics in food-animal production being advocated by the World Health Organization would be ill-advised and wrong," NPPC stated. "Denying pigs, cows and chickens necessary antibiotics would be unethical and immoral, leading to animal suffering and possibly death, and could compromise the nation’s food system."

NPPC noted farmers are complying with an FDA directive prohibiting using antibiotics important to human medicine for promoting animal growth. Farmers are also taking park in programs focused on responsible use of antibiotics, NPPC stated.

The full WHO guidelines for using medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals can be viewed at…

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