Photo courtesy of FAO.
ROME, ITALY — Russia is backing a Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) effort to promote food safety and prevent the spread of medicine-resistant “superbugs” in food and on farms in five countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe with a donation of nearly $3.3 million.
The new Russia-supported project in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will help national authorities get a better handle on the threats posed by antimicrobial resistant (AMR) microbes in agriculture and food systems, the FAO said.
The bulk of the funding will be used to support action on three broad fronts:
- Strengthening the regulatory and legal frameworks that underpin national efforts to address antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in agriculture and food chains, including the development of national response strategies
- Building the capacity of national surveillance systems to monitor and test for AMR in food systems
- Raising awareness among farmers, animal- and human health professionals, food safety authorities and others regarding AMR risks and how to manage them
Anna Popova, head of Russia’s Federal Service for Surveillance and Consumer Rights Protection, pledged that her country would bring its significant epidemiological research capacity to bear in support of improved regional cooperation on AMR.
“But AMR is not just a subject for scientific research — it poses very concrete risks to human health, including antibiotic residues in food products,” she said.
“We cannot underestimate this threat, and must translate our words into action,” Popova added, referencing a ground-breaking international resolution on AMR action made at last year's UN General Assembly.
FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo commended Russia for its strong commitment to strengthening global food security and nutrition, including its backing of the FAO's efforts to help countries confront antimicrobial resistance.
“AMR is intimately connected to health, medical care, safe food production systems and the environment,” she said. “Leaving AMR unchecked would leave a dim vision of the future.”
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in a private bilateral meeting with Minister Popova thanked her for Russia’s contribution and praised the country for being the first major donor to support AMR-related work in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The first major push to escalate awareness of AMR in food and agricultural systems in the region will take place next month when the FAO and Russia convene an International Conference on Food Safety and Risk Analysis in Sochi, May 18-19.
The event will bring together more than 350 participants from government, the private sector and the scientific community as well as health and nutrition specialists to exchange experiences and best practices on nutrition and food safety — including AMR.
The increased use of antimicrobial medicines like antibiotics in human and animal health care — as well as abuse and improper use — has contributed to an increase in the number of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to medicines traditionally used to treat them.
This poses considerable risks for human health.
But AMR is a concern not only in hospitals but on farms and in food systems too, the FAO said.
Food can act as a vector that brings humans into contact with AMR pathogens. And animal diseases that are difficult or impossible to treat due to AMR can impact food production and cause financial losses that erode farmers’ livelihoods.
Last September, the international community took unprecedented unified action to respond to the new, emerging threat of AMR by committing to developing national action plans on AMR, based on the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance — a blueprint for tackling AMR developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in coordination FAO and the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE).
Focused primarily on the realm of food and agriculture, the FAO's own Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance calls for four lines of action:
- Improving awareness of AMR issues among farmers and producers, veterinary professionals and authorities, policymakers, and food consumers
- Building national capacities for surveillance and monitoring of AMR and antimicrobial use in food and agriculture
- Strengthening governance related to AMU and AMR in food and agriculture
- Promoting good practices in food and agricultural systems and the prudent use of antimicrobials
Antimicrobials are critical medicines that must remain useful and effective tools in treating and preventing animal diseases. The FAO has advocated for reducing or entirely cutting out their use in animal feed as “growth promoters” as an important step aimed at safeguarding their continued efficacy.