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Antimicrobial Resistance

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 micro-organisms.

FAO's role in addressing antimicrobial resistance

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global public and animal health issue of increasing concern. The risk appears to be particularly high in countries where legislation, regulatory surveillance and monitoring systems regarding the use of antimicrobials and the prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance, are weak or inadequate. This is the reason why FAO plays a key role in supporting government, producers, traders and other stakeholders to adopt measures to minimize the use of antimicrobials and to prevent the development of antimicrobial resistance. FAO works on antimicrobial resistance with its international partners in the Tripartite (a collaboration between FAO, WHO and OIE) and also with other partners, as appropriate.

FAO calls for a “One health” and “food chain” approach and is addressing Antimicrobial Resistance as a cross-sectoral issue because antimicrobials:

  1. can spread through our food.
  2. are widely used in aquaculture and livestock production
  3. are used in crop culture - more specifically antifungicides

The 39th Session of FAO's governing Conference has called for urgent action at both the national and international levels to respond to the growing threat of antibiotic-resistant pathogens in the world's food producing systems – terrestrial and aquatic.

AMR is an increasingly serious threat to public health and sustainable food production that requires a response spanning all sectors of government and society, according to a resolution adopted by the Conference in 2015 (see Resolution 4/2015 in the report of the Conference). 

The resolution flags as an urgent concern growing levels of AMR in disease- and infection-causing microorganisms, as they become less responsive to treatment, making infections or diseases more difficult -- or impossible -- to cure.

It urges “increased political awareness, engagement, and leadership to ensure continued access to antimicrobial drugs through the prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials in agriculture."

The Conference asked FAO to support related regional, national and local efforts through capacity-building, technology transfer, and knowledge-sharing work, as well as deepen its partnership in this effort with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) – focusing in particular on helping lower-income countries develop the capacity to respond to this global challenge.

FAO has a unique role in supporting producers and other actors in food systems in addressing AMR risks, which it currently coordinated between a number of technical divisions – including animal production and health, fisheries and aquaculture production, and food safety – as well as through the Codex Alimentarius Secretariat, a jointly run effort between FAO and WHO that establishes food safety standards and guidelines and contains a code of practice aimed at minimizing AMR.

FAO assists countries in implementing Codex texts and promoting prudent and responsible use of antimicrobials in agriculture, encouraging farmers to adopt good animal husbandry and health management, as well as biosecurity practices to reduce the need for antimicrobial drugs in animal production.

To guard against antimicrobial resistance and as part of overall efforts to reduce hunger, FAO helps countries develop and promote:

  1. good hygiene practices to control the spread of resistance through food;
  2. attention to risk of antimicrobial resistance by Codex Alimentarius
  3. efficient livestock husbandry for healthier, more productive animals;
  4. guidelines for prudent use of antimicrobials in aquaculture;
  5. good animal health and management practices including improved biosecurity and use of vaccines instead of antimicrobial drugs;
  6. policies and capacities for responsible use of antimicrobials; and
  7. health management approaches that recognize the links between animals, humans and ecosystems.

These measures help slow down the development and expansion of resistance to essential veterinary drugs.

Antimicrobial resistance issues

Antimicrobial resistance represents an increasing global concern for the agriculture sector. The very microbes that cause infections and disease are becoming resistant to antimicrobial drugs because of overuse, misuse and counterfeiting. The more these drugs are abused, the greater the likelihood that microbes will become resistant, thereby placing livestock and livelihoods at risk.

Currently there are only a few well-established networks that regularly collect and report relevant data on drug resistance. Some countries lack laboratory facilities that can accurately identify resistant microorganisms. This impairs the ability to detect emergence of resistant microorganisms and take prompt actions. Similarly, there is insufficient new research into new diagnostics to detect resistant microorganisms, and vaccines for preventing and controlling infections. If this trend continues, the arsenals of tools to combat resistant microorganism will soon be depleted.

The prudent use of antimicrobials in livestock and aquaculture sector is essential in light of the increased demand for animal proteins by a rapidly growing world population expected to exceed 9.6 billion by 2050. Intensifying production means additional challenges in disease management and even higher potential for increased antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance can be tackled by working closely with veterinarians, farmers, feed and food producers and food safety professionals, to support best animal health and production practices which underpin the prudent use of antimicrobials.

For all these reasons, concerted global action is required to deal with AMR (see WHO, FAO, and OIE united in the fight against Antimicrobial Resistance)

Latest developments

FAO Resolution on AMR: The 150th Session of Council ( December 2014) requested for its 151st Session a document outlining the role of FAO and its partners in relation to AMR. It also requested a related draft Resolution to be submitted to the 39th Conference 6-13 June 2015.

AMR working group: This inter-departmental FAO group meets on a regular basis, chaired by Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Juan Lubroth and brings together FAO officers from Animal Health, Animal Production, Codex Alimentarius, Fisheries, Food Safety and Plant

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