Experts tackle problem of antibiotics in the food chain

Bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites are all becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs. This means that medicines used to treat common infections are less and less effective, or even useless

The phenomenon of antimicrobial resistance – now considered one of the most serious global threats to human health – is on the agenda here today at an international conference convened by Russia’s Federal Service for Supervision of Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Experts from North America, Europe and Central Asia, as well as FAO and the Russian Federation, are attending the two-day International Conference on “Food Safety and Risk Analysis” which opened yesterday. Analyzing and evaluating the risk to public health of different food safety hazards is the broad theme of the event.

“Antimicrobial drugs are used to kill or stop microbes from growing in humans, animals and plants,” said FAO senior food safety officer Markus Lipp. “Antimicrobial resistance can occur naturally over time, but overuse or misuse of antimicrobial drugs in humans and in agriculture can speed up the development of resistance.”

Microbes that are resistant to antimicrobials can be found in people, animals, food, water and the environment. Resistant microbes can spread through the food chain, in the environment, between people and animals, or from person to person. This affects human and animal health as drugs become less effective, leading to more severe illnesses and an estimated 700,000 human deaths every year, according to FAO data.

Medicines become less effective, leading to more severe
illnesses in animals and people, and an estimated
700,000 human deaths each year.

In addition to dangers to human and livestock health, antimicrobial resistance causes production losses that can lead to food insecurity, FAO cautions. Misuse of antimicrobial drugs results in unsafe and contaminated foods, and pollutes soil and water with drug residues and resistant microbes.

There is little disagreement as to the cause of antimicrobial resistance. Scientists and public authorities acknowledge that overuse and abuse of antibiotics and other antimicrobial drugs – in agriculture and in modern medicine – are the culprit.

An expert session today looks at risk assessment and strategies for risk reduction when it comes to antimicrobial resistance. Presentations include: Innovations in the use of bacteriophages for sanitary and epidemiological practice, On-farm reduction of antimicrobial use, antibiotic control of bacteria in food raw materials and food products in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and Biosecurity practices and other measures to reduce the use of antimicrobials in the food chain.

The Conference is expected to highlight the need for all nations to join in the implementation of FAO’s global action plan on antimicrobial resistance at a national and regional level. Experts agree on the need for a multi-sectorial approach at all levels: responsible veterinary practices and on-farm treatment of livestock, crops and aquaculture facilities, good practices on the part of food producers, handlers and sellers, and national surveillance systems.

“A global threat requires a coordinated, global response,” Lipp said, “bringing together all people and sectors to reduce the use of antimicrobials in humans and animals. These drugs should be used selectively, prudently, and responsibly.”

FAO supports national action plans involving all sectors, to prevent the development of antimicrobial resistance by raising awareness, promoting best practices in food and agriculture, developing better surveillance and monitoring, and ensuring that rules for safe use are respected.

Last month, the Russian Federation announced US$ 3.3 million in support for FAO’s work on combatting antimicrobial resistance. Rospotrebnadzor head Anna Popova referred to the initiative in her opening remarks yesterday.

“This Conference marks the start of a three-year Russia-FAO joint programme to assist countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” Popova said, “in developing and realizing national strategies for reducing the risk of antimicrobial resistance. Five countries will be supported by the Russian contribution to FAO to assess and strengthen their laboratory capacity, an FAO reference center for monitoring antibiotic resistance will be established on Russian territory, and methods for determining antibiotic residues in food will be developed.”

19 May 2017, Sochi, Russian Federation

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