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What can farmers do to help tackle AMR?

Farmers are the ones in charge of the daily operations of the farm and are therefore even more responsible for the health of the animals than the veterinarian. As such, they can fight against AMR by doing the following.

How does antibiotic use in animals affect humans?

A number of antibiotics used for veterinary purposes are also used to treat humans; For example, critically important antimicrobials for medicine (WHO, 2018) are also used in animals such as glycopeptides, cephalosporins, macrolides, and quinolones (AMRLS, 2011).  Scientific evidence has shown that overusing antibiotics in animal husbandry, especially in low doses for growth promotion, can lead to antimicrobial resistance. It is crucial that important antibiotics for human medicine do not lose their efficacy and these antibiotics of “highest priority critically important” should be avoided at all costs in animal production.

Bacterial pathogens that acquire antibiotic resistance in animals might then spread to humans through food and lead to infections that are harder, or impossible, to treat. However, this only occurs at a very small rate with bacteria such as salmonellae and campylobacters. The main issue is an overall increase in AMR and the indirect spread to humans as 60% of all human diseases originate from animals. This is especially concerning when it deals with bacteria resistant to antimicrobials that are crucial for human medicine such as the critically important antimicrobials listed above.

Sources: WHO, WHO, Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy

Are the antimicrobials used in animals identical to those used in treating infections for humans?

Numerous microbes (i.e., bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites) affect both humans and animals and therefore require similar treatment. As such, some of the antimicrobials are indeed identical. One example can be found in Listeria contamination; Listeria is associated with clinical diseases in ruminant (e.g encephalitis abortion, septicaemia) and can be transmitted to humans through animal products such as meat. In order to treat the bacteria in both humans and animals, the most effective antibiotic is ampicillin which can be used alone or in combination with other antibiotics (Temple and Nahata, 2000).

Sources: WHO

What can veterinarians do to help tackle AMR?

In the EU, as per the new rules adopted by the European Parliament in 2018, antimicrobials must be limited to a single animal and justified by a veterinarian. An exception exists only when there is a high risk of infection; in this case, collective treatment is permitted if no suitable alternatives exist. As the ones in charge of making the decision to use or not use the antimicrobial, veterinarians can find out more about what they can do here.

What is the global economic burden of AMR, per annum?

Depending on best or worst case scenarios, by 2050 the expected economic burden due to AMR will account for 1.1-3.8% of the global GDP (World Bank Group, 2017). This tremendous economic impact has been confirmed by the UN Interagency Coordination Group (IACG) on AMR which has compared the situation to the financial crisis of 2008. The economic impact would come mainly from rising health care costs but also secondary impacts on the food/feed production sector, trade and livelihoods, and an increase in poverty and inequality (WHO, 2019).

In 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) broke out in China and presented not only a previously unknown threat to human health, but also a poignant economic burden. A later study which used the outbreak as a frame of reference estimated that the direct output loss in China’s animal husbandry industry would be over 467 billion Yuan at minimum if a full-blown AMR crisis were to break out in the future.

In Europe, the cost is estimated to be around EUR 1.5 billion per year. This covers figure covers both healthcare costs and productivity losses (EC, 2017).

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