The World Health Organization (WHO) issued formal guidelines for the agriculture industry regarding antibiotics and healthy animals on Nov. 7. However, USDA acting chief scientist, Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young issued a statement shortly after which said that the guidelines are not supported by sound science and would harm the agriculture industry if followed.
“The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals.” Dr. Jacobs-Young stated. The guidelines also do not fall into alignment with U.S. policy, according to the USDA.
In the published guidelines, WHO stated that there is low quality evidence for their recommendations, but also state their justifications for each suggested action. Their recommendations include the following;
- Overall reduction in the use of all medically important antimicrobials in farm animals.
- Complete restriction in the use of medically important antimicrobials for growth promotion in animals.
- Complete restriction in the use of all medically important antimicrobials in farm animals for prevention of infectious diseases that have not yet been clinically diagnosed.
WHO also conditionally recommended that antimicrobials classified as critically important for human medicine should not be used to prevent spreading or even treating diseases identified within a group of farm animals.
The organization’s guideline development group determined that following these restrictions and reductions could potentially create large health benefits for people and that outweighed the problems they may cause to the agriculture industry. The health benefits include lowering the risk of antimicrobial resistance in bacteria that harms humans and in animals.
While there have been cases of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria in humans and animals, the causes for both events are unclear and thought to be unrelated. Animals that are given antibiotics in the U.S. are regulated to ensure that the drugs have left their system before they are killed for human consumption, so there is no chance of the public receiving these antimicrobials in the food they eat.
The USDA also states that medically important antibiotics are already restricted for use in growth promotion for animals and that the FDA allows for antimicrobial drugs to be administered to prevent and control the spreading of disease as well as treat sick animals. If WHO’s guidelines were followed, veterinarians would have “unrealistic constraints on their professional judgement.”
The USDA needs more data on the subject and states that they support the development of alternative treatments and prevention methods regarding bacterial infections and diseases.