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A conflict has arisen between the US administration and the World Health Organisation over the use of antibiotics to treat farm animals.
The US chief scientist has hit out at the WHO for issuing guidelines on the use of antibiotics asserting that the evidence the WHO has used to form the working practices is in some cases “very low quality”.
The chief scientist Dr Chavonda Jacobs-Young spells out that in the US antibiotics for treating sick animals are overseen and administered by licensed vets.
However, her statement does not deny that antibiotics are at times used on farm as growth promoters and he does not condemn the practice.
Her statement, issued after the publication of the guidelines says: “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 previously requested that the standards for on-farm antibiotic use in animals be updated through a transparent, consensus, science-based process of CODEX. However, before the first meeting of the CODEX was held, 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.’
“Under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy, medically important antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion in animals. In the US, the FDA allows for the use of antimicrobial drugs in treating, controlling, and preventing disease in food-producing animals under the professional oversight of licensed veterinarians. While the WHO guidelines acknowledge the role of veterinarians, they would also impose unnecessary and unrealistic constraints on their professional judgement.
“USDA agrees that we need more data to assess progress on antimicrobial use and resistance, and we need to continue to develop alternative therapies for the treatment, control, and prevention of disease in animals. We remain committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance in people and animals. We will continue to work with the WHO, World Organization for Animal Health, and Food and Agriculture Organization to promote antibiotic stewardship to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.”
Dr Jacobs-Young’s stance, however, is not held by all in authority in the US.
Long-time campaigner against the misuse of antibiotics, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has welcomed the guidelines from the WHO and has called on the government, agricultural sector and food industry to heed the advice.
Congresswoman Slaughter said: ““We must heed the call of the World Health Organization and finally end the unnecessary and rampant misuse of antibiotics on healthy animals.
“It’s time for the US government, the pharmaceutical companies, and corporate agriculture to face the consequences of their inaction.
“Tens of thousands of American deaths are attributed to antibiotic resistance each year and the threat keeps getting bigger with every passing day.
“Lawmakers and the Trump administration have a decision to make: keep the status quo of loopholes and voluntary action that puts corporate financial interests above public health or take decisive action that can help us avoid a nightmarish future where antibiotics no longer work.
“The US is among the worst offenders and we have lagged behind for too long.”
She added that over-use and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance and that the new WHO recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.