FAO to cut antimicrobial resistance in food supply chain

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

An action plan to tackle antibiotic use has been developed by the FAO
An action plan to tackle antibiotic use has been developed by the FAO

Related tags: Agriculture, Livestock

An action plan to reduce the spread of antibiotic resistance in global food supply chains has been launched by the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO). 

The FAO has launched a four-pronged action plan in response to the “use and abuse”​ of antibiotic medication in the food industry. The prophylactic appliance of antibiotics has increased the risk of antibiotic-resistance diseases, with health experts warning its impact may be detrimental to human health.

The UN General Assembly meets in New York on 21 September to debate the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), and the FAO has launched its action plan in the run-up to this summit. Its strategy will be to focus on four key aspects: improving awareness of AMR across the food supply chain; building national capacities for surveillance and monitoring; bolstering governance: and promoting good practices in the food industry to encourage measured use of antibiotics.

“The FAO plan is indeed welcome. However, it fights shy of offering effective solutions,”​ said Peter Stevenson, chief policy advisor of Compassion in World Farming.

“It rightly indicates that the use of antimicrobials is highest in the intensive pig and poultry sectors. But it fails to point out that, to tackle farming’s contribution to resistance, we need to ban the routine preventive use of antimicrobials and move to better practices in which good health is inherent within the system. It’s a scandal that Governments are placing the interests of industrial farming and the veterinary pharmaceuticals sector ahead of the need to preserve the efficacy of antimicrobials to fight human disease.”

An Alliance to Save our Antibiotics spokesperson also welcomed the plan. “The FAO’s Action Plan on AMR is welcome - as is the acknowledgment that current veterinary prescribing practices are fuelling the global public health and economic crises we now face.

Next week’s UNGA High-Level meeting on AMR is set to hugely intensify global collaboration on this issue.

But, successful national strategies for tackling farm-origin AMR must include plans to phase out routine non-therapeutic antibiotic use in groups of animals. The FSA, WHO and others must make it clear that such practices have no place in ‘responsible use’ strategies.”

By the mid-point of 2017 the FAO hopes to have helped leading governments implement nationwide strategies that help tackle AMR in the food and agriculture sector.

“Antimicrobial medicines play a critical role in the treatment of diseases of farm animals and plants,”​ said the FAO in a statement.

“Their use is essential to food security, to our well-being, and to animal welfare. However, the misuse of these drugs, associated with the emergence and spread of antimicrobial-resistant micro-organisms, places everyone at great risk.”

Thanks to global economic expansion and population growth since the 1960s, food production methods have had to intensify to keep pace with rising food demand. This, the FAO claims, has resulted in an increase in the use of antimicrobials in agriculture, particularly livestock sectors.

In addition to its use in chicken, cow and pig farms, antibiotics are now commonly employed in aquaculture (fish farms).

Around 60,000 tonnes of antibiotics are used in the livestock sector every year, and demand for the drugs is expected to rise as the world’s appetite for meat increases.

The FAO’s Action Plan on AMR is welcome - as is the acknowledgment that current veterinary prescribing practices are fuelling the global public health and economic crises we now face.

Next week’s UNGA High-Level meeting on AMR is set to hugely intensify global collaboration on this issue.

But, successful national strategies for tackling farm-origin AMR must include plans to phase out routine non-therapeutic antibiotic use in groups of animals. The FSA, WHO and others must make it clear that such practices have no place in ‘responsible use’ strategies.

Related topics: Meat

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