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Huge science leap needed to control farm-driven antimicrobial resistance

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Oscar Rousseau

By Oscar Rousseau+


A meat industry spokesman said only 'holistic' action can reduce antimicrobial resistance
A meat industry spokesman said only 'holistic' action can reduce antimicrobial resistance

A giant leap in research is needed to effectively end the growing threat of antimicrobial resistance, according to a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) report.

Identifying factors that help resistant bacteria enter both human and animal guts is urgently needed, the FAO report claimed. The document called for a “concerted effort” to map, understand and mitigate the risks of antibiotic resistance, warning that mounting evidence suggested the meat industry’s routine use of antibiotics was a “major conduit” of antimicrobial resistance.

The 67-page technical report also called for more prudent use of antibiotics at farm level and rigorous vaccination programmes, alongside the total ban on antibiotics used to promote animal growth.

Lack of attention

However, Jean-Luc Mériaux, secretary general of the European Meat and Livestock Trading Union (UECBV), told this site the FAO report “doesn’t pay attention to the initiatives and actions” put in place by the industry.

He also suggested successful action needed to be “holistic” and research should focus on “animal health, better biosecurity and hygiene, as the most efficient way of reducing the need for antibiotics is by improving animal health”.

The FAO report, written in partnership with the Royal Veterinary College in London, has also suggested antimicrobial residues in water should be tracked, much like other hazardous substances are.

‘Biggest threat’

Given our current limited knowledge of transmission pathways, options to mitigate the global spread of AMR (antimicrobial resistance) involve controlling its emergence in various environments, and minimising the opportunities for AMR to spread along what may be the most important routes,” the report said.

The report was launched during World Antibiotic Awareness Week, a joint initiative by the FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Heath (OIE) in a united effort to raise awareness of what the triumvirate called “one of the biggest threats to global health”.

The report also highlighted what it described as “compelling evidence” pointing to the scale of the antimicrobial threat. It suggested the detection of bacteria resistant to colistin – the last-resort antibiotic in human medication – underscored the need to scrutinise livestock practices, as the drug is used across pig, poultry, beef and lamb farming.

Research needed

The joint paper was welcomed by the UK’s Alliance to Save our Antibiotics .

We welcome this report from the UN FAO,” a spokesperson from the alliance said. “While there is certainly a need for further research into farm antibiotic use and AMR, collective efforts in this area must also focus on identifying the measures that will actually make a difference and reduce farm antibiotic use in practice.

More than ever, we need an in-depth review of what works: Which practices have been shown to reduce farm antibiotic use? How can welfare improvements build the natural immunity of livestock? How can we accelerate the transition to low antibiotic, high-welfare farming systems? What are the effects of specific practices – for example, weaning of piglets – on antibiotic use? These just some of the questions that we now need to answer.

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