About 80% of antibiotics worldwide are used in animals, something health experts say is contributing to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance, in which common infections no longer respond to the drugs used to treat them. Now the the World Health Organization (WHO) has released new recommendations for antibiotic use in animals, taking a strong position that the use of medically important antibiotics should be substantially dialed back, and that the use of antibiotics for growth promotion should be banned altogether.
The WHO is also recommending that healthy animals only receive antibiotics to prevent illness if a disease is already diagnosed in that animal’s flock or herd. When veterinarians do treat animals, the WHO says they should only use mediations that are of least importance to human health (the agency provides a list).
Antibiotics that are used in animals are either identical or very similar to antibiotics used in humans, which is why they contribute to the increase in infections among humans who don’t respond to the drugs. The WHO says that potential consequences from completely restricting antibiotics for growth promotion “appear to be relatively small or non-existent.”
Whether countries will heed the new recommendations remains to be seen. “Countries will follow these guidelines if they are sufficiently impressed with how urgent this crisis is and if they have good leadership,” says Dr. David Wallinga, a senior health officer at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).