Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM)

Fighting the rise of superbugs in Asian aquaculture


  • 95 Aquaculture biosecurity officials from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam received guidance on how to develop plans and policies.
  • And China, Malaysia, Philippines and Viet Nam have developed the aquaculture component of their National Action Plans on antimicrobial resistance.
  • Food safety and quality

  • 69 officials from Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam received training on antimicrobial residues monitoring and analysis.

Antibiotics are a marvel of human ingenuity. Since Anne Sheaf Miller posted a miraculous recovery from a deadly infection in 1942 following the administering of the then-experimental drug penicillin, antibiotics have saved countless lives.

But we can have too much of a good thing. With human antibiotic use up 36 percent this century, and use in livestock set to grow 67 percent by 2030, we are facing a looming food safety crisis. Residues of these drugs are seeping into the environment and creating microorganisms that have evolved antimicrobial resistance. These deadly superbugs are causing concern, and with good reason. Globally, 700 000 deaths are attributable to antimicrobe-resistant bacteria.

“The inappropriate use of antimicrobials in food and agriculture is a problem contributing to the antimicrobial resistance crisis because every time we use these medicines, we risk blunting their effectiveness for the future,” said Dr. Juan Lubroth, FAO’s Chief Veterinarian.

This is as much of a problem in water as it is on land. UN Environment research says that up to 75 percent of antibiotics used in aquaculture may be lost into the environment. FAO is responding to this challenge, including through a project to strengthen the ability of governments to reduce aquatic antimicrobial resistance.

Asia dominates global aquaculture production, making action in the region a priority. Regional workshops and training events on aquaculture biosecurity – held in India, Malaysia and Singapore, with the participation of officials from Bangladesh, China, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam – sought to help governments cut down antimicrobial resistance in the sector.

These activities provided guidance to competent authorities in the development of the aquaculture component of National Action Plans on antimicrobial resistance; best practices on biosecurity and responsible use of antimicrobials; and design of antimicrobial susceptibility testing. The Malaysian National Action Plan was launched by the Minister of Health and the Minister of Agriculture and Agro-based Industries on 27th February 2018. Dr Aihua Li, from the Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said that the workshop gave him valuable information on how to minimize antimicrobial resistance in aquaculture.

The project also supported competent authorities in the inspection and monitoring of fish food, building the necessary capacity in national laboratories for antimicrobial detection in fish products and promoting the inclusion of antimicrobial resistance in inspection systems and sampling plans for fishery and aquaculture products. Other post-harvest activities included the promotion of fish silage processing technology to provide guidance on good practices for fish waste management.

New partnerships on aquaculture biosecurity were also developed, including with the Croatia Veterinary Institute and India’s Nitte University. These new partnerships provide access to new resources and amplify impact, including through the development of a practical guide, Responsible Management of Bacterial Diseases in Aquaculture.

“FAO has given our writing consortium full support to use our expertise and experience on bacterial diseases in aquaculture to produce a practical book for aquaculture professionals at a global scale,” said Dr Olga Haenen, of Wageningen Bioveterinary Research. “In this way, FAO supports the healthy production of fish: the protein of the future.”

The efforts in Asia are an integrated part of FAO’s wider work on antimicrobial resistance with other partners across the globe, such as the ATLASS tool, which allows countries to conduct a strength test of their national laboratories and epidemiological systems.