The World Health Organization (WHO) launched new guidelines on Tuesday on the use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals, urging farmers and the food industry to stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in otherwise healthy animals.
The guidelines recommend 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.
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. If possible, sick animals should be tested to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection, according to the WHO.
The new version of guidelines aims to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.
Since 2005, the WHO has published a list of critically important antimicrobials for human medicine that is regularly revised. The list groups all antibiotics currently used in humans and animals into three categories -- "important", "highly important" and "critically important" -- based on their importance to human medicine. The overall objective is to encourage prudent use to slow down antimicrobial resistance and preserve the effectiveness of the most critical antibiotics for medicine.
The new guidelines recommend that antibiotics used in animals should be selected from among those that are the least important to human health, and not from those classified as "critically important", as the latter is often the last line or one of limited treatments available for serious bacterial infections in humans.
"A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak," says WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe."
As consumers are also driving the demand for meat raised without the routine use of antibiotics, actions have already been taken in many parts of the world to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. For instance, the European Union (EU) banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in 2006.
The WHO also recommends improving hygiene, better use of vaccination, and changes in animal housing and husbandry practices as alternatives to using antibiotics in animals for disease prevention.