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USDA Chief Scientist Slams New WHO Guidelines for Antibiotic Use - Washington Report

The World Health Organization (WHO) Tuesday released a report recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals.

The guidelines, while not binding, recommend a reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in animals and the complete restriction of those antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis.

Ultimately, healthy animals should only receive antibiotics to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd or fish population, according to WHO. The guidelines do allow for continued use of antibiotics to treat sick animals, though they suggest rigorous testing to determine “the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection,” preferably one low on the list of importance to human health. WHO has published a list of critically important antimicrobials for human medicine, with regular revisions, since 2005. The fifth revision was published in April 2017.

The chief scientific arm of the USDA disagrees with WHO’s guidelines. Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA Acting Chief Scientist Tuesday released a statement disavowing the recommendations. “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.”

It is already current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy, Dr. Jacobs-Young points out, that medically important antibiotics are not to be used for growth promotion. FDA does allow, however, the use of such antibiotics for disease prevention. By contrast, WHO’s recommend the administration of antibiotics only once one member of the same flock, herd or population already has contracted the disease. It recommends against administration of antibiotics to otherwise healthy animals for disease prevention.

The current administration of antibiotics for disease prevention is conducted under the “professional oversight of licensed veterinarians,” according to the statement. “While the WHO guidelines acknowledge the role of veterinarians, they would also impose unnecessary and unrealistic constraints on their professional judgment.”

“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 recommendation stems from the organization’s belief that the “over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance,” according to WHO’s press release.

“A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” says 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.”