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WHO shuns use of antibiotics in healthy animals

by Britt E. Erickson
November 13, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 45

A row of pigs in cages in a confined space.
Credit: Shutterstock
Antibiotics are commonly used in the U.S. to prevent disease in pigs.

Farmers and the food industry should stop using antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention in food-producing animals, the World Health Organization says in new recommendations. The guidelines, released Nov. 7, call for slashing the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in animals that have not been diagnosed with a disease. The recommendations aim to combat antibiotic resistance and “preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine.” Antibiotics should be given to healthy animals to prevent disease only when other animals on the same farm have been diagnosed with a disease, WHO says. The U.S. Department of Agriculture disagrees with the WHO recommendations, claiming they are “not supported by sound science.” The U.S. Food & Drug Administration allows the use of antibiotics for “treating, controlling, and preventing disease in food-producing animals under the professional oversight of licensed veterinarians,” says USDA’s acting chief scientist, Chavonda Jacobs-Young. WHO claims that “improving hygiene, better use of vaccination, and changes in animal housing and husbandry practices” would help eliminate the need for antibiotics for disease prevention.


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