Sécurité sanitaire et qualité des aliments

Foodborne AMR

What is foodborne AMR?


Antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, can be defined as the inherited or acquired characteristic of microorganisms to survive or proliferate in concentrations of an antimicrobial that would otherwise kill or inhibit them. Practically speaking, this term describes changes in microorganisms that make them no longer as susceptible to the drugs used to treat the diseases they cause. Resistant infections are more difficult to treat than infections that are not resistant to antimicrobials.

AMR is a global health threat.  Antibiotic resistant infections kill over 1 million people each year. A portion of these infections are foodborne — meaning that the pathogens came from consuming contaminated food. This can lead to an infection that requires antimicrobials, which may prove to be ineffective if the microorganisms have acquired resistance.


FAO's work on foodborne AMR


Because food production practices can contribute to the emergence of antimicrobial resistance and food can transmit infections to people, FAO has several work streams to address the problem.

FAO's approach to addressing foodborne AMR starts with strong food control systems and good hygiene practices when handling food. Preventing the transmission of all foodborne pathogens prevents the transmission of antimicrobial resistant pathogens. FAO provides Scientific Advice to the Codex Alimentarius Commission, FAO Members and others on foodborne AMR (e.g. on the role that the environment, crops and biocides have on foodborne AMR).

AMR-specific activities include:

  • Global project: The Action to support implementation of Codex AMR texts, also referred to as the ACT project, is a five-year project (2021-2026), funded by the Republic of Korea, to support six countries (Bolivia, Cambodia, Colombia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan) in implementing three Codex Alimentarius standards that focus on risk analysis of foodborne AMR, integrated monitoring and  surveillance and reducing the need to use antimicrobials in food production
  • Behavioural economics of food safety and AMR: It is well recognized that AMR represents a significant economic burden, associated, for example, with losses for farmers in food production or animal increased mortality. However, in terms of consumer behaviour, little is known about how much a consumer is willing to pay for safer food, a knowledge gap that FAO is filling in via pilot studies in different countries, starting with United States of America and Colombia.
  • Whole genome sequencing (WGS) training: this technology has the potential to play a significant role in the area of food safety. A sudden and drastic context change occurred everywhere in the world with regard to the use of sequencers and their usefulness to precisely detect, quantify and analyse microorganisms, during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, in many low-income countries, the level of understanding regarding benefits and implications concerning the use of genome sequencing in the area of food safety has been low. Given this impactful context change in the background, FAO is assisting countries in gaining greater understanding of the benefits and challenges of using WGS in food safety management, through the development of dedicated guidance material and the delivery of workshops for food safety authorities.  
  • Collaboration with partners in the private sector: FAO is collaborating with private sector stakeholders in a multitude of projects/workstreams, like, for example, the assessment of the AMR/AMU situational analysis in Egypt, Ethiopia, Mongolia, Mozambique and Rwanda.
  • Working with partners assess and communicate risks associated with the use of substandard and falsified antimicrobials.
  • Developing guides and resources on the responsible use of antimicrobials in plant production.   


Why is it important to address foodborne AMR?


Because the health of humans is inextricably linked to the presence of antimicrobial resistant organisms in foods of both animal and plant origin, a One Health approach is essential to control AMR. The successful achievement of several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), namely the ones related to food security and health, depends equally on the safety of the food supply and continued efficacy of antimicrobials. The exact contribution of foodborne AMR to the overall AMR burden is currently not known, but the different work streams presented above are providing knowledge and tools that can be used by a wide range of stakeholders, including academia, policymakers, risk managers, food producers and consumers in providing safe food for all people at all times.