By Jessica Domel
Multimedia Reporter

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s acting chief scientist is speaking out on a recent report from the World Health Organization (WHO) on antibiotic use and alleged misuse by American farmers.

WHO recommended that farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics to promote growth and prevent disease. The organization alleges overuse and misuse is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance.

Ranchers should test sick animals to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to use before treating animals, according to the report. WHO calls for veterinarians to choose from a specific list of antibiotics deemed least important to human health.

The WHO guidelines are not in alignment with U.S. policy and are not supported by sound science, according to Dr. Chavonda Jacobs-Young, USDA acting chief scientist.

“The recommendations erroneously conflate disease prevention with growth promotion in animals,” Dr. Jacobs-Young said.

WHO previously requested the standards for on-farm antibiotic use be updated through a transparent, consensus, science-based process.

WHO released this paper before the first meeting.

Jacobs-Young said the WHO guidelines, according to the language in the guidelines, are based on low-quality evidence and, in some cases, very low-quality evidence.

“Under current Food and Drug Administration (FDA) policy, medically important antibiotics should not be used for growth promotion in animals,” Jacobs-Young said. “In the U.S., the FDA allows for the use of antimicrobial drugs in testing, controlling and preventing disease in food-producing animals under the professional oversight of licensed veterinarians.”

While the WHO paper does recognize the important role veterinarians play, Jacobs-Young said WHO would also impose unnecessary and unrealistic constraints on their professional judgement.

“USDA agrees that we need more data to assess progress on antimicrobial use and resistance, and we need to continue to develop alternative therapies for the treatment, control and prevention of disease in animals,” Jacobs-Young said. “We remain committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance in people and animals.”

USDA will continue to work with WHO, World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization to promote antibiotic stewardship to avoid further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.