Alliance welcomes new WHO guidelines

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics warmly welcomes new guidelines from the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending major global restrictions on the use of antibiotics in farming. The WHO says its goal is to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.

The WHO recommends ending the use of antibiotics for growth promotion worldwide and also their use for disease prevention in groups of animals where no disease has been diagnosed in any of the animals. Although the EU banned growth promotion in 2006, most European countries, including the UK, still permit preventative mass medication. In March 2016, the European Parliament voted for a full ban on preventative mass medication [2], however the Council of Ministers has not yet decided whether it will support such legislation. It is hoped that these timely WHO guidelines will help to strengthen the case for an EU-wide ban on routine preventative use.

The WHO also wants to see the use of the highest-priority critically important antibiotics (including fluoroquinolone and modern cephalosporin antibiotics, and colistin) either completely banned in farming, or restricted to cases where sensitivity testing shows that no other antibiotics would be likely to work. Only some European countries currently have similar restrictions on the use of these antibiotics.

Suzi Shingler of the Alliance said: “These are excellent guidelines which are largely in line with those we have been advocating for years. Unfortunately, worldwide there are no more than a handful of countries currently attempting to meet these standards. The UK government still refuses to ban preventative mass medication, and has no specific restrictions on the use of critically important antibiotics. Similarly, the EU is unfortunately still stalling on new regulations which would meet the WHO standards.”

Although the WHO wishes to see the guidelines adopted globally, it recognises the difficulties that low and middle-income countries may have in implementation. High-income countries, however, should be expected to be able to fully implement the guidelines.

Suzi Shingler said “Keeping animals in crowded, unhygienic yet economically productive environments has, until now, been made possible with the routine preventative use of antibiotics. The best way to reduce antibiotic use, and meet the WHO standards, is to improve animal health and welfare. This is why, If governments and industries around the world were to heed the WHO’s advice, they should be looking to change the way we farm animals. The benefits for human and animals health would be tremendous.”

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is currently advocating that countries ban antibiotics for growth promotion, but in contrast to the WHO it does not make any recommendations on restricting preventative mass medication. The OIE reports that worldwide, out of 130 countries surveyed, 96 have now banned growth promotion. However, there are major concerns that in practice many poorer countries are failing to fully implement the rules they have adopted so far. The widespread use of antibiotics for preventative group treatments also undermines international action against growth promotion, as many of the same antibiotics are used for mass medication.