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WHO Urges End to Routine Antibiotic Use in Food-Producing Animals

  • For years, FDA, USDA, and various industry stakeholders have sought to tackle public health concerns associated with the use of medically important antibiotics to promote growth or feed efficiency in food-producing animals.  In the U.S., FDA is working with industry to gradually phase out the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for production purposes.  Antibiotic resistance has also emerged as a hot button issue on the global stage. In an address to the UN General Assembly in late 2016, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) called on consumers to choose “antibiotic free” meat, noting that doing so would help stem the “slow motion tsunami” of antimicrobial resistance. And, on February 27, 2017, WHO published its first ever list of antibiotic-resistant “priority pathogens” – a catalogue of 12 families of bacteria that WHO claims pose the greatest threat to human health.

  • On November 7, 2017, WHO issued a statement recommending that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals. In its statement WHO says that healthy animals should only receive antibiotics to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd or fish population. WHO also recommends that sick animals should be tested to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat a specific infection and the antibiotics used should be selected from those listed by WHO as “least important” to human health. The Agency cited research published in The Lancet Planetary Health that found interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in those animals by up to 39 percent.

  • The National Pork Producers Council immediately issued a statement calling a ban on disease prevention uses of antibiotics in food-animal production as “ill-advised and wrong.”  In addition, USDA’s Acting Chief Scientist pushed back against the WHO recommendations contending that “The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science”, and stating that the “recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals.”

  • The International Poultry Council also questioned WHO’s stance on antibiotics, noting that “the IPC is very concerned that the WHO guidelines inappropriately tie the hands of producers and limit their options for using antimicrobials for prevention, control and treatment of diseases based on specific need.”  The IPC noted that it remains committed to an approach that balances the knowledge and scientific expertise of all stakeholders to ensure the responsible use of antimicrobials for human and animal needs and encouraged WHO “to be more inclusive of the veterinary community in its work so its deep expertise can guide proper antimicrobial use and animal care.”

  • It remains to be seen whether and to what extent WHO’s recommendations will impact U.S. policy in this arena going forward.

© 2017 Keller and Heckman LLP

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Keller and Heckman offers global food and drug services to its clients. Our comprehensive and extensive food and drug practice is one of the largest in the world. We promote, protect, and defend products made by the spectrum of industries regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the European Commission and Member States authorities in the European Union (EU) and similar authorities throughout the world. The products we help get to market include foods, pharmaceuticals, medical devices, veterinary products, dietary supplements, and cosmetics. In addition...

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