FAO head calls for urgent action to tackle antimicrobial resistance

Stronger multi-sectoral collaboration and capacity-building, as well as prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials in the agriculture and food sectors are needed to overcome antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to the head of the Food and Agriculture Organization.

Dr. Qu Dongyu (FAO)
Dr. Qu Dongyu (FAO)

“Coherent, swift, and decisive action” is required to the tackle the growing global issue of AMR, according to Qu Dongyu. The Director-General of the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was addressing the High-Level Interactive Dialogue of the General Assembly on AMR last week.

If action is not taken, there will soon be significant adverse effects on global health, food safety and security, and the socio-economic situation, Qu warned. Increasing the complexity of the situation is the world’s growing demand for animal proteins.

Stressing the urgency of the AMR situation, he said that it is vital to keep current antibiotics working as effectively as possible for as long as possible. Owing to the huge costs of drug development, we cannot rely on new antibiotics to solve this global issue. Yet without effective products, he said, the world population could be overwhelmed by an emerging infectious disease.

Importance of collaboration

In the view of the FAO, success in tackling AMR will only be achieved through collaboration. On a national scale, this means ministries of health, agriculture, food and the environment working together. 

One example of a significant development on a global scale to this end was the formation of the Tripartite Collaboration on AMR. Together with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the FAO launched the One Health Global Leaders Group on Antimicrobial Resistance at the end of 2020. Members of the group include heads of government, ministers, and leaders from the private sector and civil society. Through its leadership and influence, the group’s main aims are to attract attention and bring about action to preserve antimicrobial medicines, as well as to avert the consequences of AMR.

FAO’s approach to AMR

AMR in animal pathogens already affects production animals, according to the FAO. This undermines food safety and security. Furthermore, antimicrobial-resistant pathogens can both emerge and spread through the food chain, as well as between animals, humans, and the environment.

Within the animal health sphere, FAO sees the primary challenge as reducing the excessive misuse and abuse of antimicrobials locally and globally. It aims to preserve antimicrobials as essential medicines for treating sick animals only. The organization is responding to these challenges by tracking and reporting major animal disease “events,” supporting the local response, and providing information relating to disease prevention.

Last month, FAO’s regional office for Asia and the Pacific published a document entitled “Slowing down superbugs – Legislation and antimicrobial resistance.” This helps to demonstrate how existing legislation can be adapted to help tackle AMR. As an example, the organization states that setting maximum residue limits of antimicrobials or other substances can help combat AMR, while food safety legislation can be adapted to monitor and control them.

Without urgent action to tackle AMR, FAO estimates that, by 2050, the global economy may lose more than US$6 trillion annually because of AMR. This is equivalent to around 4% of the Gross Domestic Product.

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