Publication of new WHO guidelines 7 November 2017
The WHO Guidelines on Use of Medically Important Antimicrobials in Food-Producing Animals published November 2017 are largely consistent with UK farming’s direction of travel. A clear strategy in the UK has produced rapid reductions in sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals and significant falls in sales of highest priority antibiotics, meaning a major government target has been exceeded two years early. A demanding set of targets for each of the key livestock sectors will ensure momentum continues.
However the WHO Guidelines expose some important differences between the global and the European – and specifically the UK – position. For example: antibiotics are controlled by prescription in the UK and use for growth promotion was banned over 10 years ago; UK government and RUMA follow the European Medicines Agency – not WHO – guidelines on CIA definitions because they identify the degree of risk to human health should antimicrobial resistance develop after use in animals; and the UK, with its high regard for animal welfare, observes a ‘One Health’ approach focused on the best outcomes for people, animals, and the environment.
While some practices in veterinary medicine, as in human medicine, cannot continue, time, investment and support are needed to make long-term sustainable changes without harming animal welfare. This means the WHO guidelines, especially based on what the WHO admits is low or very low quality evidence, are neither compatible with the UK farming industry’s priorities, nor necessary given recent progress.