21 May 2019- The countries of the world, via their representatives to the Tripartite of the FAO, WHO, and OIE, have collectively declared war on antimicrobial resistance, committing themselves to a Global Action Plan on AMR which would include collecting data on its emergence and planning a coordinated response involving human and animal health systems.

The deadline for drafting national action plans reflecting these goals was May 2017. This means that, over the last two years, the FAO has been at the epicenter of a global transformation as country after country took their first steps towards a new relationship with antimicrobial drugs. Dr. Katinka de Balogh, Senior Animal Health and Production Officer at the FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (FAO RAP), gives an inside perspective on what this has looked like in the part of the world which produces more feed than any other.

The most diverse region in the world

Of course, there is not only one perspective on this region. “Asia is clearly the most diverse region in the world, not only socio-culturally but also economically and geographically. The production systems are very diverse and in some instance large scale farms are located near to small-scale farming with little biosecurity,” Dr. de Balogh notes. Each type of farm brings its own challenges. “In some instances, the large producers are aware of the ongoing concerns and are looking for alternatives as the market demands are changing,” she says. Meanwhile, “in backyard farming the use of antimicrobials is relatively low as access to antimicrobials can be an issue in some places.”

Dr. Katinka de Balogh
Senior animal health & production officer

These structural differences have important implications for a country’s ability to adapt to the changes required to preserve antibiotics. “Countries are clearly facing many other challenges besides AMR and have competing issues—population density, predominance of backyard/small scale producers, access to resources, climate, disease challenges (especially African swine fever), etc.” acknowledges Dr. de Balogh. “In some countries, the aquaculture and environment sectors still need to further engage [with this issue].”

Indeed, if there is one generalization that can be made, it is that there remains much to be done in terms of consciousness-raising on this issue. “Knowledge and awareness on AMR and the proper use of antimicrobials and overall good farming practices are not always there,” says Dr. de Balogh. “FAO has been conducting knowledge, attitude and practices (KAP) studies to better understand the current situation and define drivers for this intended change in order to effect change.”

Role of the FAO

The FAO’s role within this fight is primarily to promote improvements to regulation, accompany the establishment of surveillance systems monitoring antimicrobial use, and develop awareness campaigns. For example, now that the National Action Plans (NAPS) to address AMR have been drafted (at least 71 have been submitted to the WHO), the FAO is working to help ensure that countries have the resources and capacity necessary for their implementation. “FAO has been assisting countries in assessing their surveillance and laboratory capacities in the animal health/agriculture sector through the use of an assessment tool called FAO-ATLASS,” Dr. de Balogh observes.

Yet another important role is that of coordinating technical and organizational support, and matching potential partners to maximize the ability of countries to meet their AMU reduction goals. “While it takes time to mobilize resources at national level, some outside funding has been catalytic in setting up surveillance and the generation of data to base policies on.” Indeed, these sorts of partnerships have been essential to translating the ambitions of the NAPS into action. “FAO has presently ongoing projects in over 25 countries with funding from donors including the UK Fleming Fund, USAID, and the Russian Federation to support development and implementation of National Action Plans on AMR and AMU,” she asserts.

Bringing together and coordinating among diverse stakeholders also means making sure that those voices which are not necessarily commercially important or politically powerful are heard and included in the planning for solutions. “We are specifically interested in how small holders/backyard producers for whom livestock are an essential part of their lives and livelihoods can best benefit from the research on, e.g., feed additives,” Dr. de Balogh recounts. “Therefore, we want to further explore how research and development plus collaboration across all the stakeholders involved in the livestock supply chains (international organizations, government, livestock industries, farmers / producers and consumers) can contribute to the global effort to control risk of AMR and improve practice in AMU.”

And of course, this is only one of the issues on which the FAO is engaging the animal nutrition industry. From the reuse of food and agriculture waste to greenhouse gas reduction to emergency preparedness for outbreaks of diseases such as African Swine Fever, the FAO is up to its elbows not only in the questions that have dominated the feed industry over the last several years, but also in those which will likely drive the development of new solutions going forward.

Hear more from the FAO RAP on antibiotic usage and legislation across Asia at Feed Additives Asia 2019 from 26-28 June at the Millennium Hilton in Bangkok. To consult the full agenda, visit https://www.feedadditives-asia.com/programme/