Stop using antibiotics in healthy farm animals, WHO warns

Antibiotics in food contributing to rise of drug-resistant infections in humans, UN agency says.

The World Health Organization urged farmers on Tuesday to stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals because the practice fuels dangerous drug-resistant superbug infections in people.

Describing a lack of effective antibiotics for humans as “a security threat” on a par with “a sudden and deadly disease outbreak”, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said “strong and sustained action across all sectors” was vital to turn back the tide of antibiotic resistance and “keep the world safe.”

The United Nations agency “strongly recommends an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, including complete restriction of these antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis,” it said in a statement.

Any use of antibiotics promotes the development and spread of so-called superbugs — multi-drug-resistant infections that can evade the medicines designed to kill them.

In some countries, around 80 per cent of total consumption of medically important antibiotics is in the animal sector, according to the WHO statement.

They are largely used in healthy animals to stop them from getting sick and to speed up their growth — a practice the WHO said should be stopped completely.

In sick animals, the statement said, tests should first be conducted wherever possible to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection.

Some countries have already taken action to reduce the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals. Since 2006, the European Union has banned the use of the drugs for growth promotion.

Consumers are also driving a demand for meat raised without routine use of antibiotics, with some major food chains adopting “antibiotic-free” policies for meat supplies.

The WHO said alternatives to using antibiotics for disease prevention in animals include improving hygiene and farming practices and making better use of vaccines.
Photo: The World Health Organization says the use of antibiotics in healthy animals farmed for food is contributing to the rise of drug-resistant infections in humans. (Reuters)

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