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USDA chief scientist expresses concerns on WHO animal antibiotic guidelines

WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science, chief scientist said.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) released recommendations regarding the use of antibiotics in agriculture. Animal agricultural groups were quick to point out that U.S. farmers are taking a look at judicious antibiotic use, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s acting chief scientist echoed similar thoughts in a statement later in the day Tuesday.

WHO said farmers and the food industry should stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. Healthy animals should receive antibiotics only to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd or fish population, WHO recommended.

Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA acting chief scientist, said, “The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science. The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals."

Jacobs-Young noted that WHO previously requested that the standards for on-farm antibiotic use in animals be updated through a transparent, consensus, science-based process of CODEX. She noted, “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 & Drug Administration policy, medically important antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion in animals. In the U.S., 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 judgment," Jacobs-Young noted.

“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,” she added. “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 & Agriculture Organization to promote antibiotic stewardship to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.”

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