Report to UN Secretary General on antibiotic resistance makes weak recommendations on farm antibiotic use

A new report to the UN Secretary General by the Interagency Coordination Group on Antimicrobial Resistance (IACG) calls antimicrobial resistance “a global crisis that threatens a century of progress in health and achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals” and says that “misuse and overuse of existing antimicrobials in humans, animals and plants” are all contributing to the problem. But despite warning that a lack of action may have a “disastrous impact within a generation” with “catastrophic” economic consequences, the IACG report makes weak recommendations for reducing farm antibiotic use worldwide.

The IACG says that the farm use of antibiotics to promote faster animal growth and to routinely prevent disease in healthy animals is contributing to the spread of resistance, but it only calls for an immediate end to the use of the most critically important antibiotics for growth promotion and makes no recommendations for ending routine preventative use.

Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics says: “The report is entitled “No Time to Wait”, but the IACG shows a real lack of urgency when it comes to the massive overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming globally. It doesn’t even call for an immediate end to all antibiotic growth promotion, arguing that some countries need more time and resources to transition. It also fails to back welcome recent moves by the WHO and the EU aimed at ending routine preventative use.

Crucially, the IACG has little to say about protecting animal health and reducing antibiotic use by fundamentally improving husbandry. Poor husbandry and industrial farming is ultimately why antibiotics are being overused so much in farming.”

In 2017, the World Health Organization called for an end to the use of antibiotics for routine disease prevention of healthy livestock, and last year the European Union agreed to end the practice in January 2022. Unfortunately, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), both key participants in the IACG, and the United States, all oppose ending preventative mass medication with antibiotics.

Antibiotics have been banned in the EU for growth promotion since 2006 and in the US since 2017, but are still permitted for this purpose in at least 45 countries around the world.