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Published on Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The Growing Problem of Antibiotics in Livestock

The Growing Problem of Antibiotics in Livestock

The recent World Health Organization release attempts to stop or reduce the use of antibiotics in farm animals in order to keep the medical resource effective for humans. Antibiotics are commonly prescribed to treat bacterial disease in humans and animals. The Overuse of antibiotics is building up towards dangerous levels of antibiotic resistance where bacteria alters itself in defense against the use of the medicine. Health professionals have already come across types of infectious bacteria that have developed strong antibiotic resistance.

It is now necessary for the world to redefine the common practice of prescribing antibiotics. Although the development of new medicine is growing, the threat of antibiotic resistance will remain a problem that needs immediate attention. The World Health Organization has come forth with new guidelines requesting a reduction in the use of antibiotics in food-sector animals for both medical and growth purposes. The only case where it is acceptable to use antibiotics in farm animals is to prevent disease in multiple diagnoses within the same group of animals. Furthermore, some antibiotics have a limited availability and are used primarily to treat more serious human infections. The World Health Organization has created a list indicating the level of importance for different types of antibiotics and it is requested that only the least important antibiotics for humans are used in animals when necessary.

The Problem of Antibiotic Resistance

The rise in antibiotic resistance is leading towards smarter resistance mechanisms and faster development rates on a global scale, reducing the medical power to treat what we now consider common diseases. When the purchase of nonprescription antibiotics for humans and animals is made easy, the resource becomes misused and the fear of antibiotic resistance is highly increased. Moreover, the vague and non standard international requirements for antibiotic usage allows for overprescription by doctors, the public, and veterinarians.

When veterinarians for food-producing animals overuse antibiotics for treatments and growth an increase in superbugs is inevitable. Superbugs can fight most antibiotic medicines and end up requiring some of the stronger ones. Animals that develop this superbug can easily infect humans with it by contact, requiring humans to use even stronger antibiotic treatment and repeat the same dangerous cycle. Although a lot has been developed in recent years, humans do not yet have a promising alternative to antibiotics in the case of a sudden deadly outbreak. Without instant change we are headed towards a future where routine operations can kill us again.

The director general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, 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.”


Additionally, Kazuaki Miyagishima, director of food safety at WHO, discussed antibiotic use in livestock: “Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance genes/bacteria. The volume of antibiotics used in animals is continuing to increase worldwide, driven by a growing demand for foods of animal origin, often produced through intensive animal husbandry.”


What Should be Done to Reduce the Risk

The World Health Organization has suggested that the strongest antibiotics must not be an option for animals under any circumstance. Ill animals should be isolated and allowed to die instead of using strong medicines to cure them. Results from a new research study published in The Lancet Planetary Health, proved a 39% reduction in antibiotic resistant bacteria in animals when the use of antibiotics was limited. The agricultural industry can prevent disease and reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance by: following strict hygiene precautions and applying good practices in the entire food production process, requiring vaccinations for all farm animals and using alternative antibiotics when possible, and not using any antibiotics on animals for growth promotion.


Some opposition from the agricultural sector was expected due to the major financial loss these changes could cause them. However, a number of countries have already began to implement changes towards the reduction of antibiotic use in animals. For example, the European Union no longer allows the use of antibiotics to increase animal growth. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization can not enforce these new guidelines without them first being accepted by the National Government. The organization is instead following a global action plan and leading initiatives, such as the annual World Antibiotic Awareness Week, where the problem can be further addressed.


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Author: AThompson

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