The World Health Organization (WHO) has published its first global report on antimicrobial resistance, warning that the threat has spread to every region in the world and is attributable, in part, to inappropriate use of antibiotics in animal husbandry.

Among the report’s key findings are (i) “standard treatments no longer work”; (ii) “infections are harder or impossible to control”; (iii) “the risk of the spread of infection to others is increased”; (iv) “illness and hospital stays are prolonged, with added economic and social costs”; and (v) “the risk of death is greater—in some cases, twice that of patients who have infections caused by non-resistant bacteria.” According to the report, even “last resort” antibiotics have become ineffective in certain populations.

The report also discusses information gaps, noting that surveillance of antimicrobial resistance “is neither coordinated nor harmonized.” To address the issues identified, WHO is developing a global action plan that will include the development of tools and standards to harmonize surveillance of antimicrobial resistance in humans and food-producing animals, “elaboration of strategies for population-based surveillance of [antimicrobial resistance] and its health and economic impact,” and collaboration among surveillance networks “to create or strengthen coordinated regional and global surveillance.”

WHO Assistant Director-General for Health Security Keiji Fukuda said, ”Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.” See WHO News Release, April 30, 2014.

Meanwhile, a Dutch company has reportedly constructed an experimental facility outside the town of Eersel to improve the health of meat chickens. According to animal welfare expert Peter Vingerling of Vencomatic, “We didn’t design this in order to raise chickens without antibiotics. We did it to be sustainable and serve animal welfare. But then we noticed that, over a couple of years, we hadn’t had to use any drugs at all.” Since 2008, Vencomatic has apparently raised 1.26 million meat chickens in a specially constructed warehouse, and the birds, which did not receive the routinely administered antibiotics that have become a matter of contention in Europe and the United States, achieved growth and weight outpacing the industry average, in a healthier condition. See Slate, April 30, 2014.