The World Health Organization warned farmers this week to stop using antibiotics in healthy food-producing animals, a move intended to keep the medications from losing their effectiveness against human illnesses.

In addition to treating sick animals from cattle to poultry and fish, antibiotics are routinely used to promote growth and prevent disease in livestock in Asia and the U.S. The practice has been banned in Namibia, Africa, since 1991, according to WHO, the health agency of the United Nations, which wants it stopped globally.

Everyone knows humans are developing superbugs resistant to antibiotics, a trend linked to both the food we eat and unhealthy agricultural practices such as excessive use of medicines in healthy animals. This "herd mentality" may eventually kill meat eaters if left unchecked, officials warn, with future generations perishing from a common cold because even the strongest antibiotics have been rendered ineffective.

With no laws in place in the U.S., WHO can only hope farmers heed the warning. Sick animals should be prescribed meds by a vet, not a farmer. And animals too sick to be saved should be quarantined and allowed to die.

"A lack of effective antibiotics is as serious a security threat as a sudden and deadly disease outbreak," Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of WHO, said in a statement. A systematic review published Tuesday, Nov. 7, in The Lancet Planetary Health found that restricting antibiotic use in food-producing animals reduced their resistant bacteria by up to 39%.

To learn more about antibiotic resistance in humans, WHO encourages your participation in the World Antibiotic Awareness Week, held 

November 13-19, 2017


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Editors' pick: Originally published Nov. 10.