FAO chief calls for halting the use of antimicrobial medicines to promote growth in farm animals

Graziano da Silva says countries and rural communities need support to combat antimicrobial resistance

30 May 2018, Rome - Antimicrobials are important to safeguard the health of humans and animals, but these medicines need to be used responsibly, including in the agricultural sectors, FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said today at a high-level UN coordination meeting on antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

"FAO advocates that antibiotics and other antimicrobials should be only used to cure diseases and alleviate unnecessary suffering. Only under strict circumstances they should be used to prevent an imminent threat of infection," he said.

Noting that antimicrobials are still being used as growth promoters, especially in livestock and acquaculture, the FAO Director-General said such practices "should be phased out immediately."

He also pointed to the use of antimicrobials as biocides on crops, a situation which is leading to some crop funguses becoming more resistant to treatment and which, he said, also needs to stop.   

Graziano da Silva was speaking in Divonne les Bains,France at a meeting of the Interagency Coordinating Group on Antimicrobial Resistance, which includes FAO, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). 

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 well as the economic wellbeing of millions of farming households across the globe.

Graziano da Silva noted that to date only 89 countries  have indicated that they have a system in place to collect data on the use of antimicrobials in farm animals and that "AMR will not be solved in a few years. It will need continuous attention and guidance"

Only by working together, the international community will be able to address the challenges that antimicrobial resistance poses to sustainable development," he said, underscoring the important role not just of governments but also of civil society and the private sector.

Strengthening surveillance and monitoring systems

A FAO AMR Action Plan seeks to improve awareness on AMR and related threats; develop capacity for surveillance and monitoring; strengthen governance; and, promote good practices and the prudent use of antimicrobials.

As part of efforts to implement the action plan, FAO is supporting countries and rural communities. "This is particularly important where legislation, regulatory surveillance and monitoring systems are weak or inadequate," Graziano da Silva said.

Working closely with WHO and OIE

FAO, WHO and OIE have decided to intensify their partnership through a Memorandum of Understanding including increase collaboration on AMR.

Graziano da Silva cited several examples where the three organizations have worked together successfully. This included supporting the Government of Ghana, which last month launched an antimicrobial resistance policy and a national action plan.

FAO, WHO and OIE are also assisting the Government of Cambodia to incorporate and implement the responsible use of antimicrobials in their law system and in Vietnam, FAO is helping to collect samples in aquaculture systems to boost surveillance.

Photo: ©FAO/Giulo Napoltiano
Antimicrobials are still being used as growth promoters for chicken and other farm animals.