Animal health groups dispute WHO antibiotic policy

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The Coalition for Animal Health questions the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendation that the use of antibiotics in animals for growth promotion be discontinued.

These animal health products have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as well as the regulatory agencies of many other countries, and have a decades-long track record of safety and efficacy. WHO issued its recommendation after reviewing the recent experience in Denmark, a country that mandated a ban on the use of antibiotics for growth promotion in livestock production.

WHO based its recommendation to other countries largely on two presumptions gleaned from the Danish experiment. First, it presumes that benefits of the ban will accrue from increased "consumer confidence" in meat products. And, secondly, that "likely" human health benefits will result.

The WHO recommendation mirrors the political - not scientific - action taken by the European Union. A recently published article in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy documents that the removal of antibiotics for growth promotion in Europe has led to a significant increase in animal disease and the use of antibiotics of importance to human medicine to treat that disease. Moreover, the article cites published literature indicating that despite the ban there has been no reduction in the prevalence of resistant enterococcal infections in humans. Even the WHO report recognizes that "clinical problems in humans related to resistance to antimicrobial growth promoters were rare in Denmark before and after termination." Denmark has jeopardized the health and well-being of its livestock, but has not demonstrated an improvement in human health.

Evidence demonstrates that the care U.S. producers exercise in administering antibiotics to animals is working to protect public health. The incidence of resistant foodborne bacteria in humans is dropping, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as is the incidence of bacterial pathogens on raw meat and poultry, according to USDA. Most importantly, the rate of foodborne illness in the United States is also dropping, according to CDC. These accomplishments are the result of the livestock industry’s nearly universal acceptance of sound production practices.

The Food and Drug Administration has established a rigorous process for determining which drugs can be used in food producing animals, and the agency has promulgated strict regulations governing how those drugs may be given to animals. We disagree with a ban based only on classification of use, but support FDA’s ongoing risk assessments of currently approved products when justified by new information. The livestock and poultry industry will continue to use only FDA-approved drugs, and will comply with all FDA rules governing their use.

American Association of Bovine Practitioners
American Meat Institute
American Veterinary Medical Association
Animal Health Institute
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
National Chicken Council
National Pork Board
National Pork Producers Council
National Turkey Federation



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