FEATURE ARTICLE What is the Farmer’s Role in Tackling AMR?
Julie Bolton, Veterinary Inspector, AMR Division, DAFM, Backweston.
What is AMR? Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria, viruses, and some parasites) to grow/survive in the presence of an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics) that should be capable of killing it when given at the correct dose, in other words the veterinary medicine is no longer effective to treat the disease. The terms antimicrobial and antibiotic are used interchangeably but in the context of talking about AMR we are referring to bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Antibiotics are natural or synthetic substances that inhibit the growth of or destroy bacteria. The discovery of antibiotics has revolutionised health care and prolonged life expectancy across the globe. In animal health antibiotics are vital tools to protect animal health and welfare, productivity, and facilitate the production of safe, nutritious food. The term antibiotic residue should not be confused with AMR. If there is an antibiotic residue in the food, this means that there are traces of antibiotics and associated metabolites remaining in meat and milk derived from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. If a farmer adheres to the required withdrawal period for an antibiotic then there is no risk of an antibiotic residue occurring in the meat or milk from the treated animal. However adhering to the withdrawal period does not prevent the development of bacterial resistance over time. Any use of antibiotics will over time lead to bacteria becoming resistant to these veterinary medicines, and the antibiotics will become less effective at treating disease. AMR is a very serious global public health threat. Without effective antibiotics, infections that were once deemed relatively minor have the potential to kill. Scientists estimate that if AMR continues to spread at current levels, by 2050 10 million people may die from AMR related infections, more than the death toll due to cancer.
AMR is a natural phenomenon. Bacteria have been around for millions of years and have developed various survival mechanisms. Bacteria acquire resistance genes which enable them to survive treatment with an antibiotic. Every time we use antibiotics some of the stronger bacteria develop resistance genes in order to survive. The misuse and overuse of antibiotics accelerates the rate at which resistance develops.
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