The World Health Organization (WHO) has put forward an official recommendation to farmers and the food industry to stop them using antibiotics in healthy animals to promote growth and prevent disease. This is of paramount importance if we want to maintain the effectiveness of antibiotics.
The recommendation comes after a review paper was published in The Lancet Planetary Health. The study found that by restricting the amount of antibiotics in food-producing animals, the number of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these animals fell by up to 39 percent.
Antibiotic resistance is a serious and global threat. Scientists and policy makers around the world are worried that the overuse or misuse of antibiotics might eventually lead to the formation of a particularly infectious microbe that we cannot kill. There are already several bacteria that are immune to most or all of our antibiotics.
“A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said in a statement. “Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe."
There are countries around the world where 80 percent of antibiotics are used to make healthy animals grow faster. Stopping this is something the WHO strongly recommends. They also suggest that, whenever possible, sick animals are treated with the antibiotics that are “least important” to human health, rather than the most effective ones which for some people might be the last resource against certain infections, like the superbug MRSA.
"Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance," added Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at the WHO. "The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”
Curbing antibiotic usage can be done by improving animals' living conditions and hygiene, and by vaccinating them. Several countries have already implemented these policies and some have banned the use of antibiotics to enhance growth. For example, this practice has been illegal in the European Union since 2006.