To address the major and growing global threat that stems from rampant overuse and misuse of antibiotics in agriculture, the World Health Organization (WHO) this week issued its first-ever formal guidelines instructing farmers to stop using so many antimicrobials in healthy livestock.
“As important as these guidelines are, they are just that—guidelines. To help curb resistance, individual companies and/or countries actually have to take action on them.”
—David Wallinga, NRDC
“If no action is taken today, by 2050, almost all current antibiotics will be ineffective in preventing and treating human disease, and the costs of losing these drugs will exceed U.S. $100 trillion in terms of national productivity,” the U.N. agency predicts in a related policy brief (pdf).
David Wallinga, a senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), said the guidelines “may be a game-changer in this fight,” because they call for “fairly significant changes to how many of the world’s biggest food-animal producers now operate, including the U.S.”—but “as important as these guidelines are, they are just that—guidelines. To help curb resistance, individual companies and/or countries actually have to take action on them.”
The U.S.-based advocacy group Center for Food Safety (CFS) welcomed the guidelines, while also noting how they “illustrate the degree to which our regulators and large food animal producers are falling short.”
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Cameron Harsh, CFS’s senior manager for organic and animal policy, called on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider its support for using antibiotics on livestock for disease prevention, urging the FDA to “better align domestic policies with the WHO and to take stronger measures to restrict and reduce use of antibiotics in food animals raised in the U.S.”
The WHO guidelines reflect growing concerns about the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture, and what that means for both humans and animals in the long term.
As Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of the WHO’s Department of Food Safety and Zoonosesn, explains: “the volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin,” and “scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance.”
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