Antimicrobial resistance and animal health

Tracking, tracing and tackling antibiotic-resistant bacteria in agriculture

What’s wrong with antibiotic use in animals?

For decades, antibiotics have been given to animals across the world to treat and prevent infections. In some countries, antibiotics have been used in the agriculture sector to promote growth.

While antibiotics are essential for animal welfare and safe food production, the overuse and misuse of such medicines can contribute to the serious problem of antimicrobial resistance. This is where bacteria evolve and become resistant ‘supergerms’.

Supergerms can infect animals and people and lead to serious health complications and death. In fact, antimicrobial resistance is already costing us millions of dollars and thousands of lives globally every year.

Where antibiotics were once administered daily and widely to animals on farms – even to healthy animals – Australian producers are now urged to follow strict guidelines for antibiotic use in animals.

The good news is that Australia’s agriculture sector is considered to be one of the world leaders in antimicrobial use, but there is still more that can be done. More understanding is needed about how antibiotic use in agriculture can impact human health.

The spread of AMR in agriculture

We do not fully understand how antibiotic use in the agricultural sector contributes to the AMR problem. However, we do know that animals treated with antibiotics can become a source of drug-resistant germs.

And, we know that these drug-resistant germs can spread from animals to humans through direct and indirect contact.

Consuming food products from contaminated fresh produce or infected animals, for example, increases the risk of spreading antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Coming into contact with animal waste such as organic fertilisers could have the same effect.

AMR and Australia’s agriculture[1]

  • Australia has one of the most conservative approaches in the world when it comes to the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals.
  • Australia is a world leader in minimising the use of antibiotics in food producing animals.
  • In a 2015 United Kingdom review, Australia was ranked the fifth-lowest for antibiotic use in agriculture among the 29 countries examined.

A rise in AMR could damage Australia’s reputation as an exporter of safe, high-quality food products.

How can OUTBREAK help to combat AMR in agriculture?

OUTBREAK’s high-tech surveillance system will collect and analyse data on antimicrobial use and resistance in farms and veterinary practices across Australia.

With this data, OUTBREAK will help us to:

  • better understand antimicrobial use in farms and vet practices
  • better understand how AMR in animals affects human health
  • improve antibiotic therapy choices in farms and vet practices with geospatial (locational) and demographic insights
  • identify where antibiotics are used most frequently and test different intervention methods
  • identify regions where vaccines will have the greatest impact on reducing AMR and emerging bacterial diseases
  • detect early signs of AMR outbreaks and when new strains of AMR bacteria emerge
  • inform new diagnostics and validate alternative treatments
  • support quality assurance for animal food products
  • reduce the number of antibiotic-resistant infections and deaths of animals
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