WHO guidelines on antimicrobials spark debate

This week the World Health Organisation (WHO) released new guidelines on antimicrobial use on farms and within the food industry, inciting polar responses from veterinary and agricultural departments across the globe.
calendar icon 9 November 2017
clock icon 3 minute read

The guidelines come ahead of the first antimicrobial CODEX meeting on November 27th, where sector representatives will collect to discuss updating standards for on-farm antibiotic use in animals through a transparent, consensus, science-based process.

Responding to the WHO guidelines, the British Veterinary Association’s Senior Vice President, Gudrun Ravetz, spoke positively of the resolution:

We welcome the WHO continuing to tackle this serious global health issue. Their guidelines echo the guidance BVA has long been issuing on the responsible use of antimicrobials.

We agree that the prophylactic use of antimicrobials in healthy animals to prevent disease is never a substitute for good animal husbandry and management.

It is encouraging that WHO recognises that these vital medicines are sometimes needed, under veterinary judgment and prescription, as a last resort, to prevent the further spread of disease and to protect animal and human health.

However, US bodies such as the National Pork Producers Council and USDA, were less supportive of the issued guidelines. USDA Acting Chief Scientist, Chavonda Jacobs-Young, issued a strong statement on the validity of the evidence upon which the WHO guidelines are based:

The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with US policy and are not supported by sound science. The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals.

The WHO released these guidelines, which according to language in the guidelines are based on ‘low-quality evidence’, and in some cases, ‘very low-quality evidence.

While the WHO guidelines acknowledge the role of veterinarians, they would impose unnecessary and unrealistic constraints on their professional judgment.

The National Pork Producers Council questioned the WHO guidelines:

Simply reducing on-farm uses of antibiotics, as the WHO suggests, however, likely would have no effect on public health and would jeopardise animal health. Its call for stopping the use of antibiotics that are critically important in human medicine for treating infected animals is antithetical to pork farmers’ and veterinarians’ moral obligation to care for their pigs.

The Meat Institute also responded:

Advocating a blanket ban on using antibiotics to prevent disease is short-sighted and represents a ‘one size fits all’ approach to animal health and welfare.

Veterinarians should not have their hands tied… rather, they should be permitted to exercise sound medical judgment in determining what is best for the health of the animal and the health of the herd.

To read the WHO press release on antimicrobial use, click here

To view the official WHO guidelines in full, click here

Emily Houghton

Editor, The Pig Site

Emily Houghton is a Zoology graduate from Cardiff University and was the editor of The Pig Site from October 2017 to May 2020. Emily has worked in livestock husbandry, and has written, conducted and assisted with research projects regarding the synthesis of welfare and productivity of free-range food species.

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