The World Health Organisation (WHO) has issued new guidelines concerning the use of medically-important antimicrobials in food-producing animals, which have been welcomed by the British Veterinary Association.

The new guidelines strongly recommend an overall reduction in the use of all classes of medically important antibiotics in food-producing animals, including complete restriction of these antibiotics for growth promotion and disease prevention without diagnosis. Healthy animals should only receive antibiotics to prevent disease if it has been diagnosed in other animals in the same flock, herd, or fish population.

WHO says that where possible, sick animals should be tested to determine the most effective and prudent antibiotic to treat their specific infection. Antibiotics used in animals should be selected from those WHO has listed as being "least important" to human health, and not from those classified as "highest priority critically important", as they are often the last line, or one of a limited number of treatments available to treat serious bacterial infections in humans.

The new guidelines were informed by a systematic review published in The Lancet Planetary Health which found that interventions that restrict antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced antibiotic-resistant bacteria in these animals by up to 39%1.

Dr Kazuaki Miyagishima, Director of the Department of Food Safety and Zoonoses at WHO said: "Scientific evidence demonstrates that overuse of antibiotics in animals can contribute to the emergence of antibiotic resistance. 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."

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO 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."

Responding to the announcement, BVA Senior Vice President Gudrun Ravetz said: "We welcome the WHO continuing to tackle this serious global health issue. Their guidelines echo the guidance BVA has long been issuing on the responsible use of antimicrobials. 

"We agree that the prophylactic use of antimicrobials in healthy animals to prevent disease is never a substitute for good animal husbandry and management.

"Through cross-sector working, the UK is leading the way in significantly reducing antimicrobial usage, having already achieved the UK Government usage targets set for 2020. 

"Critically Important Antimicrobials use is at a very low level in the UK, and, as recent Government data shows, is continuing to decrease. It is encouraging that WHO recognises that these vital medicines are sometimes needed, under veterinary judgment and prescription, as a last resort, to prevent the further spread of disease and to protect animal and human health."

The new guidelines can be downloaded here: 


  1. Restricting the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals and its associations with antibiotic resistance in food-producing animals and human beings: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Tang, Karen L et al. The Lancet Planetary Health. Accessed 06 November 2017.