FAO calls for investment to fight antimicrobial resistance ‘throughout the food chain’

The organization reckons the issue is an increasingly serious threat to public health and food production.

The organization reckons the issue is an increasingly serious threat to public health and food production.

The fight against antimicrobial resistance needs to be fought not only by the medical community but also the agricultural sector, according to Maria Helena Semedo, deputy director-general of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization.

“We need surveillance on antimicrobial use and the spread of antimicrobial resistance – not only through hospitals, but throughout the food chain, including horticulture and the environment for more comprehensive risk assessments,” she said, calling for larger investments and greater surveillance, remarks made at a UN General Assembly side event on the topic.

Semedo referred to Cambodia as a case study, which within the past 18 months has strengthened collaboration between health and agriculture ministries, resulting in draft legislation regulating the sale of veterinary drugs and assisting animal health labs. In so doing, “we helped increase awareness and greater cooperation in dealing with antimicrobial resistance,” she said.

Increasing awareness and advocacy is one of four pillars on which the FAO has based its action plan to address antimicrobial resistance, a threat the organization deems increasingly serious to public health and food production. The other three pillars also focus on the food and agricultural sectors with the aims of: developing capacity to monitor antimicrobial resistance and antimicrobial use; strengthening related governance; and promoting the prudent use of antimicrobials.

“Progress in the fight against antimicrobial resistance depends on good agricultural practices,” Semedo said. “We need to promote sustainable agriculture and food systems. The use of antimicrobials in agriculture is not a substitute for insufficient hygiene and bad management practices.”

The FAO addresses antimicrobial resistance as a cross-sectoral issue since antimicrobials can spread through food, are widely used in aquaculture and livestock production, as well as in crop culture (in anti-fungicides).

In September 2016, the organization launched a project aimed at minimizing the transmission of antimicrobial resistant microorganisms and/or determinants via the food chain and food and agriculture environment. According to the FAO website, the project, which will run through March 2019, is providing direct support to 12 countries, to strengthen the engagement of the food and agriculture sector in addressing antimicrobial resistance through the development and implementation of multi-sectoral national action plans.

According to Semedo, the FAO has already achieved successes in Ghana, Kenya, Thailand, Vietnam, Zimbabwe, Latin America and Central Asia.

The project is being implemented in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the World Organization for Animal Health.