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Helping countries to tackle AMR in aquaculture

A worker tosses food into a fish pond in central Kenya. Aquaculture is an emerging sector in Africa.
Melba Reantaso, FAO Aquaculture Officer, works with member countries and regions to help develop National Action Plans that aim at curbing instances of AMR in aquaculture.
Young sturgeon swim in tanks at an aquaculture center in Azerbaijan.
A side event at FAO on AMR in aquaculture during the COFI Sub-committee on Aquaculture was well-attended and generated interesting discussion.

This week we’re celebrating World Antibiotic Awareness Week, an international campaign that brings attention to the fact that the misuse of antibiotics places us all at risk.

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 the livestock sector, aquaculture, and crop production. These actions are often associated with the potential risk of emergence and spread of antimicrobial resistant micro-organisms.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a major global threat of increasing concern to human and animal health. It also has implications for both food safety and food security and the economic wellbeing of millions of farming households.

AMR refers to when micro-organisms – bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites – evolve resistance to antimicrobial substances, like antibiotics. Although this can occur naturally through adaption to the environment, the pace of AMR's spread is now on the uptick due to inappropriate and excessive use of antimicrobials.

AMR is also a concern in the aquaculture sector, and for this reason FAO is working closely with its member countries to provide assistance, expertise and guidance as they develop National Action Plans that aim at curbing instances of AMR in aquaculture.

“This is a high priority area for us, and we are receiving numerous requests for support from our member countries,” according to Melba Reantaso, FAO Aquaculture Officer. “In Asia, we have been conducting a series of awareness raising and capacity building initiatives on AMR in the aquaculture sector.  Through this work, we have been concentrating on strengthening governance to face the challenge of AMR, understanding the current usage of antimicrobials, analyzing the global detections and rejections due to residues in fisheries and aquaculture products and identifying effects on food safety.”

A series of three workshops on aquaculture and AMR have been held in Asia, the latest during the first week of August in Putrajaya, Malaysia. A regional training on residue monitoring and AMR surveillance for fishery and aquaculture products has been completed.

A wrap-up meeting will be held in December in Singapore, where findings from the three regional AMR in aquaculture projects will be discussed, needs for capacity building in the countries and region will be identified and next steps for further developing or implementing National Action Plans will be addressed. A number of information, education and communication materials are being finalized to be disseminated as part of awareness raising on AMR.

“This series of events has been extremely helpful in moving dialogue forward into concrete action. With an issue as complex as AMR in the food and agriculture sector, we need a wide range of disciplines across ministries and sectors, and we need countries working together to share their expertise. We have been pleased to see many countries and partner organization working together on AMR and Singapore taking the lead to coordinate efforts in the ASEAN region. We are working together to strengthen this regional approach in order to develop guidelines and strengthen capacity building in the region.”

“When we are discussing AMR in aquaculture,” according to Reantaso, “fully understanding the situation is extremely important. We need to take a step back and understand why AMR in aquaculture is happening; which antibiotics for which bacterial diseases of a species in a particular country or region are being used. We have to take a critical look at the aquaculture sector and to understand if diseases are being correctly diagnosed, if antibiotics are being overprescribed or administered at improper dosages, if antibiotics are being administered by recognized professionals, and if practitioners are aware of alternatives. Even if national policies are in place, we need to ensure that smallholders fully understand sound aquaculture and biosecurity practices and a OneHealth approach to prevention. The need for effective communication and capacity building at the smallholder level is constantly being raised as priority areas in order to tackle AMR in aquaculture.”

The aquaculture sector has developed rapidly over the past decades, and sustainable approaches to aquaculture are more consistently being put in place. We can learn from these experiences and lessons learned over recent decades. Reantaso points to the example of farmed salmon in Norway. “Years ago, Norway relied heavily on antibiotic use in its salmon industry. However, the industry has moved away from that approach and now utilizes vaccination as a safer method to prevent disease.”

Source: Gudding, R. 2012. Disease prevention as a single basis for sustainable aquaculture. In M.G. Bondad-Reantaso,
J.R. Arthur & R.P. Subasinghe, eds. Improving biosecurity through prudent and responsible use of veterinary medicines
in aquatic food production, pp. 141-146. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper No. 547. Rome, FAO. 207 pp.

FAO will continue with its AMR in aquaculture work, within the OneHealth approach. A Latin American Regional workshop will be held in Peru 22-24 November, and Asia will host a regional consultation in 2018. FAO is currently working to produce a new publication on the responsible management of bacterial diseases in aquaculture that will take a critical look at how these diseases are currently being managed and what could be the alternatives to antibiotic use.

AMR in aquaculture will continue to be a priority area for FAO and for all those working in the aquaculture sector and we will continue to publish stories on progress on these issues. To follow related discussion during World Antibiotic Awareness Week, take a look at the Twitter hashtag #AMR and find more information at FAO’s AMR website.

Tilapia aquaculture in the Philippines. Asia is the world’s largest aquaculture producer, and the Philippines has in place a national strategy to combat AMR.
At the COFI Aquaculture AMR side event, Singapore discussed its efforts in coordinating AMR work and information sharing for the ASEAN region.
The European Union shared its experiences of a regional action plan to address AMR at the COFI Aquaculture event on AMR in aquaculture.
Aquaculture projects, such as this in Kenya, need to be aware of the dangers posed by AMR. However, good aquaculture practices are the cornerstone of prevention.




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