World Health Organization issues guidelines to
limit use of antimicrobials in food

Following is a transcript of the WHO press release, issued June 13, 2000:

The World Health Organization (WHO) has released global principles aimed at mitigating the risks related to the use of antimicrobials in food animals. Among other uses, antimicrobials kill bacteria in animals used for human food. The new recommendations, agreed at a WHO experts' meeting in Geneva, come amid growing concern over the misuse and overuse of these drugs.

The new recommendations are designed for use by governments, veterinary and other professional societies, industry and academia. Some of the most important measures included in the new "Global Principles for the Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance due to Antimicrobial Use in Animals intended for Food" are:

  • obligatory prescriptions for all antimicrobials used for disease control in food animals
  • termination or rapid phasing-out of the use of antimicrobials for growth promotion if they are also used for treatment of humans in the absence of a public health safety evaluation
  • creation of national systems to monitor antimicrobial usage in food animals
  • pre-licensing safety evaluation of antimicrobials with consideration of potential resistance to human drugs
  • monitoring of resistance to identify emerging health problems and timely corrective actions to protect human health
  • guidelines for veterinarians to reduce overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in food animals

Overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in food animals contribute to the emergence of resistant forms of disease-causing bacteria. Such resistant bacteria can be transmitted from food animals to humans, primarily via food. Infections can result that are difficult to cure because the resistant bacteria do not respond to treatment with antimicrobials.

An example is the emergence of antimicrobial-resistant Salmonella bacteria in food animals in Europe, Asia and North America which have caused diarrhoea, sepsis (blood-poisoning) and death in humans. Another example is Enterococci infections which present severe treatment problems particularly in
immuno-compromised patients because these bacteria have become resistant to all available antimicrobials.

"In the last few years, evidence of the range of public health risks associated with the use of antimicrobials has grown stronger. With the adoption of these
principles, we have now taken a major step to reduce these risks on a global scale," stated Dr David Heymann, Executive Director of the Communicable
Diseases Cluster at WHO.

On 12 June WHO issued a major new report on the usage of antimicrobials in treating all types of infectious disease (see WHO press release number 2000/41).

Over 70 experts, from human and veterinary medicine, national licensing authorities, pharmaceutical companies and international organizations, such as the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and the World Animal Health Organization (OIE), convened at WHO headquarters for the five-day meeting from June 5 to 9. They discussed six important areas of intervention: antimicrobial registration, distribution/sales, advertising, surveillance, education/training and prudent use.

"We are very encouraged with the presence of other international organizations, professional societies and the pharmaceutical industry in this process. It will require the concerted efforts of all stakeholders to translate the WHO Global Principles into national action," said Dr Klaus Stöhr, Senior Scientist on WHO's Animal and Food Related Public Health Team and Secretary of the consultation.

WHO convened meetings of experts in 1997 and 1998 to identify and assess risks associated with the use of antimicrobials in food animals. These meetings
recognized the existence of the risk for public health and encouraged WHO to develop principles for prudent use of antimicrobials in food animals. This is one part of WHO's Global Strategy for the Containment of Antimicrobial Resistance.

A specialized agency of the United Nations with 191 Member States, WHO promotes technical cooperation for health among nations, carries out programs to control and eradicate disease and strives to improve the quality of human life.

The World Health Organization, Headquarters Office in Geneva (HQ), Avenue Appia 20 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Tel: +00 41 22 791 21 11; Fax: +00 41 22 791 3111.

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