WHO tells farmers to cut down on antibiotic use

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that farmers and the food industry in general stop using antibiotic products routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals, in an announcement issued earlier today.

The new WHO recommendations are aimed at helping to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine, by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.

Misuse and overuse of antibiotics is directly contributing to the growing threat of antibiotic resistance, WHO says.

In some countries, according to the organisation, approximately 80% of total consumption of “medically important” antibiotics is in the animal sector, mainly used for growth promotion in healthy animals – though this use has been banned in the EU since 2006.

The director general of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, underlined the importance of preserving effective antibiotics, saying: “A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak.

Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.

An overall reduction in the use of all classes of “medically important” antibiotics in food-producing animals has been called for by WHO, including complete restriction of these antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis.

Healthy animals should only be injected for a disease, the international group says, if the same disease is found in other animals in the same livestock grouping.

Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO, also spoke on the matter, noting: “Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance.

The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin – often produced through intensive animal husbandry.

Response

In response to these calls made by WHO, the Irish Farmers’ Association’s (IFA’s) Animal Health chairman Bert Stewart said it is critically important that decisions are strongly supported by factual evidence.

Stewart agreed with the objective of addressing anti-microbial resistance (AMR), noting: “It requires a multi-faceted, fact-based, long-term approach which avoids populist conclusions based on low-quality or very low-quality evidence of improving the AMR situation that do not address the real causes of AMR. If this is allowed happen, we will all be the losers.”

However, the chairman said the use of antibiotics on farms is already heavily regulated.

Today’s recommendations are – in general – already being implemented by Irish farmers, with all products only available under veterinary prescription to farmers, Stewart noted.

“Farmers will play their part and have in the past number of years made significant investment in raising the health status of their animals through the implementation of disease eradication programmes, which reduce the requirement for antibiotics.”

Stewart said farmers must be supported in this approach, with recognition of the costs involved and assurances that trade deals do not expose Irish and European farmers to unfair competition from areas where less exacting standards are applied.

He said retailers have a huge role to play in ensuring their tactics are not forcing producers to produce food at prices below the cost of production.

The chairman said the consequences of reducing necessary antibiotic use in animals must be carefully considered, as it can have serious animal welfare and health implications and increase production costs for very little if any contribution towards reducing antimicrobial resistance.

Stewart said farmers will play their part, but if people are really serious about addressing the AMR issue, the major contributors to antimicrobial resistance are not to be found inside the farm gate.

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