WHO antimicrobial guidelines fall short of protecting human and animal health

Veterinary Voices Guiding Public PolicyThe World Health Organization (WHO) released guidelines for antibiotic use this week that place unwarranted restrictions on the use of antibiotics that are needed to protect animal health and safeguard the nation’s food supply. Furthermore, these restrictions are based, in the WHO’s own words, on “low-quality evidence” and, in some cases, “very low-quality evidence.”

The WHO’s stated goal is an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antimicrobials in food-producing animals. To accomplish this, the new WHO Guidelines on Use of Medically Important Antibiotics in Food Producing Animals recommend:

  • Barring the use of any medically important antimicrobial for prevention of infectious disease in food-producing animals
  • Restricting certain classes of antimicrobials from being used to control or treat infectious disease in food-producing animals
  • Disallowing any future use of medically important antimicrobials that are not currently labelled for use in food-producing animals
  • Blocking any new antimicrobials developed in the future for human use from being used in food-producing animals

Antimicrobial resistance is a critically important One Health issue, and the AVMA and its member veterinarians are committed to reducing the need for antimicrobials as one strategy to combat resistance. However, the science tells us that an approach focusing solely on reducing the amount of antibiotics used is unlikely to be successful. Instead, we believe an approach that supports selection of the right antibiotic, administered in the right way, to the right patient, and that encompasses the strategic and responsible use of antibiotics for prevention and control in addition to treatment, is the best way to protect the health of our animal patients and that of the public.

In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for the use of antimicrobial drugs to treat, control, and prevent disease in food-producing animals, and the AVMA believes veterinarians should lead the decision-making process for the use of antimicrobials in animals.

The AVMA supports the FDA’s use of scientific methods to approve antimicrobials, including medically important antimicrobials, for therapeutic purposes to prevent, control, or treat diseases in food-producing animals. The FDA process includes both pre- and post-approval safeguards that look at a range of factors, including animal safety and effectiveness, human food safety, environmental impact, safety of the person administering the drug, and monitoring for antimicrobial resistance.

The AVMA also promotes both the discovery and development of novel antimicrobials, and the development of alternative drugs and technologies that would reduce the need for reliance on antimicrobial therapy in food-producing animals.

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