The World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for a stop to using antibiotics on healthy livestock because this practice contributes to antibiotic resistance in certain types of bacteria that threaten humans.
In some countries, approximately 80 per cent of total consumption of medically important antibiotics is in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals, according to the specialized agency of the United Nations which is concerned with international public health. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments, and there are very few promising options in the research pipeline.
“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.”
A review published November 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health found that interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals by up to 39 per cent. This research directly informed the development of WHO’s new guidelines.
The WHO recommended an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals. This includes complete restriction of antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without a 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, according to the organization.
Antibiotics used in animals should be selected from those WHO has listed as being “least important” to human health, and not from those classified as “highest priority critically important”. These antibiotics are often the last line, or one of the limited treatments, available to treat serious bacterial infections in humans.
“Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance,” says Dr. Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO. “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.”
Many countries have already taken action to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. For example, since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of antibiotics for growth promotion.
In Canada, there have been moves to end the use of antibiotics to fatten-up animals. There is also a trend among many consumers to demand meat from animals that have not been treated with antibiotics.
In the 5th revision of the list published by WHO in April 2017, the antibiotics considered highest priority amongst the critically important antimicrobials are quinolones, 3rd and higher generation cephalosporins, macrolides and ketolides, glycopeptides and polymyxins (also known as colistin). These antibiotics are essential as last-resort treatments for multidrug-resistant infections in humans.
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