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EU and FAO bring combined weight to bear on food waste, antimicrobial resistance

EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, FAO Director-General agree to deepen strategic alliance

FAO/Cristiano Minichiello
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva and Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety.

29 September 2017, Rome - EU Commissioner of Health and Food Safety Vytenis Andriukaitis and FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva today agreed to ratchet up collaboration between the two organizations to address food waste, food safety, and antimicrobial resistance in supply chains.

In a new letter of intent signed today, FAO and the EU pledge to work closely together to halve per capita food waste by 2030, a goal established under the new Sustainable Development Goals global agenda. It also commits them to intensified cooperation on tackling the spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on farms and in food systems.

Speaking at a signing ceremony at FAO's Rome headquarters, Commissioner Andriukaitis said: "Food loss and waste represent an unacceptable, unethical and immoral squandering of scarce resources and increase food insecurity, while AMR marks a grave societal and economic burden," adding: "We are becoming more united, more efficient and more strategic in how we tackle these issues, and as such, this agreement should be celebrated."

Calling AMR growing global concern, Graziano da Silva said: "Unfortunately the use of antibiotics, including their use to promote growth, is already widespread."

He described FAO's vision that antibiotics and other antimicrobials should be only used to cure diseases and, in certain circumstances, to prevent epidemics. They should not be used for growth promotion, he said.    

Noting that food loss and waste is linked to many aspects of sustainable development, Graziano da Silva cited the importance of strong partnerships like that between the FAO and the EU in addressing the problem.

Shared concerns

Globally, one-third of all food produce for human consumption - 1.3 billion tonnes -- is lost or wasted, each year, causing massive financial losses while squandering natural resources. In Europe alone, around 88 million tonnes of food are wasted each year, with associated costs estimated at €143 billion, according to EU estimates.

Meanwhile, the increased use -- and abuse -- of antimicrobial medicines in both human and animal healthcare has contributed to an increase in the number of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to antimicrobial medicines used to treat them, like antibiotics.

This makes AMR a growing threat that could lead to as many as 10 million deaths a year and over $100 trillion in losses to the global economy by 2050, according to some studies. And in addition to public health risks, AMR has implications for food safety as walls as the economic wellbeing of millions of farming households across the globe.

Natural allies

Today's strengthened partnership reflects the intersection of FAO and EU priorities in the realm of food safety and food security.

FAO is leading an international effort to improve global measurement of food loss and waste, including the publication of an Annual Global Food Loss Index; the European Commission is also working to develop a methodology for measuring food waste as part of its "Action Plan for the Circular Economy". FAO is already an active member of the EU's Platform on Food Losses and Food Waste.

In June, the EU Commission adopted a new EU Action Plan on AMR, underpinned by a One Health Approach and fully in line with the WHO Global Action Plan on AMR and the FAO Action Plan on AMR 2016-2020, which focuses specifically tackling the problem within food chains.

Opportunities for strategic leveraging the knowledge and resources of the two organizations are manifold. Examples include:

  • Synchronizing efforts to quantify food losses and waste at each state of the food chain
  • Enhancing the exchange of information and evidence related to antimicrobial use in food production as well as AMR management best practices
  • Joint advocacy and education efforts to promote the responsible use of antimicrobials and improve farm-level hygiene to reduce the need for their use in the first place
  • Supporting countries in drafting legislation of antimicrobial usage
  • Conducting joint trainings and capacity building aimed at improving national capacities to for tracking the use antibiotic in food systems and mapping the presence of AMR.
FAO and the EU will also team up to support governments in implementing standards and guidelines related to AMR adopted by the Codex Alimentarius Commission.

The EU is the largest source of voluntary contributions to FAO beyond its regularly assessed dues, and the two organizations have a long history of cooperation on a range of issues.

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