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AMR and animal health

This topic provides information about antimicrobial resistance and its effect on animal health.

The intensification of agricultural production has led to a rising use of antimicrobials – a use that is expected to more than double by 2030.

Antimicrobial drugs play a critical role in the treatment of diseases, their use is essential to protect both human and animal health. However, antimicrobials are often misused for treatment and prevention of diseases in livestock sector, aquaculture as well as crop production. These actions are often associated with the potential risk of emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistant (AMR) micro-organisms.

What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) describes a natural phenomenon where microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi lose sensitivity to the effects of antimicrobial medicines, like antibiotics, that were previously effective in treating infections. Any use of antimicrobials can result in the development of AMR. The more antimicrobials are used, the more likely microorganisms will develop resistance, and the misuse and excessive use of antimicrobials speeds up this process. Examples of misuse include using an incorrect dose or administering an antimicrobial at the wrong frequency or for an insufficient or excessive duration.

What are the dangers of AMR?

AMR causes a reduction in the effectiveness of medicines, making infections and diseases difficult or impossible to treat. AMR is associated with increased mortality, prolonged illnesses in people and animals, production losses in agriculture, livestock and aquaculture. This threatens global health, livelihoods and food security. AMR also increases the cost of treatments and care.

How does AMR affect terrestrial and aquatic animal health?

Antimicrobials are essential for animal health, welfare and productivity and they contribute to food security, food safety and public health. Antimicrobials are used in animal production to treat animal diseases (including diseases that are transmitted from animals to humans), but also as a disease prevention measure. Antimicrobials were also routinely and extensively used to increase animal growth rates. This type of overuse and misuse of antimicrobials can speed up the rate at which AMR develops, resulting in less effective medicines and loss of treatment options. In such cases of treatment failure, rates of animal disease and deaths spike, and food safety can be compromised. Antimicrobial residues and antimicrobial resistant microorganisms in animal wastes also contaminate soil and water, further contributing to the emergence and spread of AMR.

What does AMR mean for food safety?

Good hygiene practices in agriculture, food production, processing and distribution, are required to maintain food safety and to minimize the transmission of AMR through the food chain to people. Antimicrobial resistant organisms can be more difficult and costly to treat. If antibiotics are not used appropriately, antimicrobial residues in food can also pose health hazards to consumers. AMR microorganisms in our agricultural production systems and food chain are not only a major public health challenge, but they also represent a potential threat to trade and the global economy.

How do we tackle AMR

  1. Implementing more sustainable agricultural practices that prioritize infection prevention for healthier animals and crops and a reduced need for antimicrobials
  2. Regulations to ensure responsible use of antimicrobials in animal and crop production.
  3. Adequate treatment and proper disposal of wastes - AMR organisms and antimicrobial residues are present in wastes from agricultural production, pharmaceutical manufacturing and human sewage. Inadequate treatment and improper disposal of wastes can spread antimicrobial residues and AMR microorganisms through the environment in soils and in waterways.
  4. Greater investments in AMR mitigation
  5. Convergence among all related sectors - Changes in agriculture alone will not be enough to combat AMR. Everyone and all sectors have a role to play in combatting AMR and this includes changes in practices in human health.

Source : FAO

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