When I read articles discussing the issue of antibiotic resistance, I’m left with the impression that some people believe the issue is being ignored – that antibiotic resistance is running rampantly out of control and nobody is doing anything to control it.
Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s quite literally an international focus and much is being done globally to address it.
Major players at the international level are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Codex Alimentarius Commission.
Let’s take a look at what these groups are doing in regard to antibiotics used in agriculture.
The United Nations in 2016 adopted a declaration to combat the proliferation of antibiotic resistance. It was especially noteworthy because it was only the fourth time in the organization’s 70-year history that a public health issue was addressed.
A year earlier, FAO adopted a resolution recognizing that antibiotic resistance poses an increasingly serious threat to public health and sustainable food production.
The resolution urges, “… increased political awareness, engagement, and leadership to ensure continued access to antimicrobial drugs through the prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials in agriculture.”
FAO is helping countries develop action plans to address the issue of antibiotic resistance. A recent survey conducted by FAO, WHO and OIE shows more than 6.5 billion people – over 90 percent of the world’s population – now live in a country that has in place or is in the process of developing a national action plan on responsible antibiotic use.
The WHO has endorsed a global action plan with five primary objectives:
WHO helps administer the Global Antibiotics Research and Development Partnership with a goal of developing up to four new treatments by 2023 through improvement of existing antibiotics and accelerating the entry of new antibiotic drugs.
WHO also raised the profile of the issue by establishing World Antibiotic Awareness Week in 2015, observed in November, with a theme of “Antibiotics: Handle with care.”
OIE, based in France, is an intergovernmental organization coordinating, supporting and promoting animal health and disease control. The organization’s general assembly last year unanimously adopted a measure mandating the group to generate a global strategy on antimicrobial resistance and prudent use.
Among other initiatives, the group has built a global database that monitors the type and use of animal health products, measures trends, traces use patterns, and evaluates the quality of antibiotic products.
Codex Alimentarius (Latin for Food Law or Code), established in 1961 by FAO & WHO, is a collection of globally recognized standards, codes of practice and guidelines related to food safety. The commission overseeing Codex, based in Switzerland, recently re-established the Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance. This task force works together with relevant international organizations (FAO, OIE, WHO) to create guidance on the management of antibiotic resistance along the food chain.
As you can see, antibiotic resistance is being taken seriously and a lot is happening around the world to address it.
It’s important to recognize that animal antibiotics must be used responsibly to minimize animal agriculture’s contribution to antibiotic resistance and heartening to note that a WHO official, commenting in the wake of the UN’s 2016 action on the issue, pointed to the importance of maintaining responsible antibiotic use in agriculture. He said, “If we lose that ability, we perhaps begin to lose the ability to have adequate food supplies in the world.”
Maintaining healthy farm animals is an important part of providing healthy food for people around the world. If an animal is at high risk of becoming sick or already sick and in need of treatment, taking action to prevent suffering is the ethical thing to do. Antibiotics are an important tool in a veterinarian’s toolbox.
Leading human and animal health organizations and experts around the world are working together to address antibiotic resistance in a manner that protects public health and our food supply, ensuring both sectors continue to provide ethical treatment worldwide.
I welcome your thoughts and questions. Please feel free to send me an email at AskDrDorman@pahc.com or call me at 844-288-3623. You can also browse our Resource Library to learn more about this important topic.