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Sweden calls to keep the pressure up to reduce the use of antibiotics in food production

On August 30, 2015  Jose Graziano da Silva, FAO Director General together with Elizabeth Backteman, the Swedish State Secretary for Rural Affairs visited the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU in Uppsala.  The focus of the visit was to exchange knowledge about ways to reduce the use of antibiotics in global livestock and aquaculture production.

Sweden has one of the lowest rates of the antibiotics use in its food production, and during this meeting Swedish researchers as well as representatives from the public and the private sector presented their work in this area and urged to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock and aquaculture.

Unnecessary overuse of antibiotics, both in medicine and in food production, was linked to greater antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Scientists warn that following this curve will be destructive for the modern medicine which is mainly based on antibiotic treatment.  These concerns laid the grounds for the political process endorsed at the ICN2 and at the 68th World Health Assembly which resulted in the FAO & WHO resolution on AMR adopted during the spring-summer 2015.

The major conclusion from the AMR debate is that antibiotics need to only be used in cases when it is absolutely necessary, and according to Elizabeth Backteman, Sweden has the knowledge and the experience of this practice to contribute to development of a global initiative: “From the government point of view, it is crucial to work with the ‘ONE Health approach’ in mind, both on the human side and on the animal side. Sweden has not only theoretical knowledge about the fight against AMR, but also practical experience on the ground. The visit of the FAO Director General to Sweden and to SLU is of great importance and we hope that he will bring what has been presented to him to the FAO and into the global arena. I certainly hope that AMR resistance will be highlighted in the next year’s HLPE report, which will be focused on the role of livestock for sustainable agricultural development and food security, and from our side we will do our best to keep the pressure up”.

FAO Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva stated “FAO is determined to reduce the use of antibiotics, but it needs international consensus.  Bringing all the interests to the table is also about development. We recognize that the use of antibiotics in low-income countries is often an economic incentive, formed by the risk of large production losses. A lot depends on regulation, its enforcement and political will to do it. We need a strategy based on scientific approach that will be also reinforced by consumers”.

Recommendations from the Joint FAO/WHO Food Standards Programme state the member states need to develop national action plans on AMR by 2017, but where to start?

“A corner stone for AMR reduction is prevention and hygiene because healthy animals kept in clean facilities do not need antibiotics” – commented Christina Greko from the National Veterinary Institute (SVA) – “it is essential to build management models with effective communication and feedback loops between producers, researchers and government officials. This would not only support sustainable agricultural practices, but would also improve logistics, eliminating cross-contamination”. She added that it is crucial to acknowledge the conflict of interests and the interconnectedness between animals, farmers, consumers, doctors and the environment: “We need to create robust production systems and share the knowledge about the experience of food production without antibiotics.” Ulf Magnusson, Professor at the Department of (Animal) Reproduction at SLU added “It is important to remember that antibiotics are a great tool in our tool box and we do not want to ruin it!”