World Health Organization Says Antibiotic Resistance Sweeping Globe

(202) 667-6982
For Immediate Release: 
Friday, May 2, 2014


Washington, D.C. – In a report released earlier this week, the World Health Organization warned that excessive use of antimicrobials, including in livestock, has generated worldwide drug resistance that threatens a “post-antibiotic era” when infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi can no longer be treated.

According to the federal Food and Drug Administration, 80 percent of antibiotics used in the U.S. go to animal agriculture.  The report by WHO, a Geneva-based agency of the United Nations, confirmed that livestock producers in half of the world’s nations, including the U.S., follow the discredited practice of using antibacterial drugs as growth promoters in animals.  

“The more producers pump livestock full of antibiotics in an effort to speed their growth, the more opportunities strains of bacteria have to develop drug resistance,” said Mary Ellen Kustin, EWG’s senior policy analyst. “Infections become harder to treat and people become sicker, and then everyone is worse off.”

“Antibacterial drugs are sometimes used in animal husbandry for disease prevention and (in half of the countries in the world) as growth promoters, involving mass administration,” the WHO report said.  “…Urgent action is needed to avoid inappropriate use, and to reduce antibiotic usage in animal husbandry and aquaculture, as well as in humans.”

An EWG analysis published in April 2013 of U.S. government data found that antibiotic-resistant bacteria were pervasive in supermarket meat and had become a direct source of foodborne illness. A significant contributor to the problem, the analysis said, was the abuse of antibiotics on factory farms.

Also last year, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly urged American agribusiness to stop using antibiotics to promote growth in farm animals. And the FDA proposed to curb the overuse of agricultural antibiotics by issuing voluntary guidelines. While the FDA’s action was an important first step, EWG believes the federal government should take more aggressive action to prevent livestock and poultry producers from squandering the effectiveness of antibiotics and spreading drug-resistant infections.

“We must preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics so when they are needed, they work,” Kustin said. “The World Health Organization is right in demanding urgent action across all sectors. Consumers have an important role to play.  They can encourage government leaders and livestock producers to use fewer antibiotics.”