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The World Health Organization [WHO] has again called on farmers to stop using antibiotics on animals in a new set of guidelines.
The misuse of these drugs in agriculture is causing huge risks to human health, and contributing to the rise of ‘superbugs’.
Antibiotics are routinely used in healthy animals for disease prevention, especially in intensive farming.
While it is forbidden to use the drugs for growth promotion in the EU, some fear it still happens. Additionally, it is commonplace in the US and Asia.
The rise of superbugs
The WHO claims that in some countries, up to 80 percent of antibiotics are used on farm animals.
This misuse is creating the biggest risk of resistance to even fairly minor illnesses in humans.
The issue is so serious, that according to Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, routine surgeries like hip replacements could become high risk because of infection risk in as little as 10 years.
She described this future as a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’.
Short film SWINE shows the dangers of antibiotic overuse
The guidelines follow – and were informed by – new research published in The Lancet, which shows that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in farm animals can be reduced by up to 39 percent when antibiotic use is restricted.
The guidelines say the use of the strongest antibiotics (usually used as a ‘last resort’ in humans) should be banned completely in agriculture.
The WHO says only the antibiotics ‘least important’ to human health should be issued – and only when an animal has been diagnosed with an illness.
The organization goes as far as saying animals should be quarantined, or whole herds even culled to stop disease spreading – rather than trying to treat it with drugs.
The WHO has no mandate to enforce legislation, and can only pass on its suggestions to Government to enforce or not.
The Department for Food and Rural Affairs [Defra] has not confirmed whether or not it will be implementing the new guidelines, but a spokesperson said the UK is making ‘excellent progress’ when it comes to tackling antibiotic usage in farming.
The farming sector is likely to be resistant to the change, as it could have financial implications, but the WHO believes the move is crucial.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO, said: “A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak.
“Strong, sustained action across all sectors is vital if we are to turn back the tide of antimicrobial resistance and keep the world safe.”