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3Rs Approach to Antimicrobial Stewardship in Livestock Supply Chains

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a challenge of global significance to human health, resulting in increasing mortality and growing pressures on health care systems across the world. Benchmark is working with our global partners to adopt the 3Rs framework in their policies.

THE CHALLENGE

Antimicrobial use in humans is considered to be the main driver of AMR, but the contribution of medicine use in food-producing animals is now widely acknowledged.

In response to increasing pressure from the media and consumer groups, some food companies have adopted ‘antibiotic free’ or ‘raised without antibiotics’ policies in their livestock supply chains. However, without systemic change in the agricultural system, aimed at decreasing the underlying need for frequent or routine antibiotic prophylaxis and therapy, this approach risks compromising animal welfare, becomes wasteful and unsustainable, and fails to recognise that the transmission of resistant bacteria is not necessarily restricted by farm, supply chain, or geographical borders.

OUR RESPONSE

To achieve meaningful change in the way antimicrobials are used in agriculture and thereby reduce the risk of emergence of antimicrobial resistant pathogens in livestock, FAI Farms ( A Benchmark Company) propose that food companies address the antibiotics challenge in partnership, as a pre-competitive issue, and adopt the ‘R’ framework in their policies.

This framework promotes practical and evidence-based solutions to ‘Replace, Reduce and Refine’ the use of antimicrobials, and is sufficiently flexible to allow tailored stewardship programmes to be developed for individual species, production systems and farms across the world.

We propose three goals of antimicrobial stewardship in animal agriculture at farm, national or international level, embodied in the 3Rs:

Goal 1: REDUCE

the annual usage of antimicrobial agents in animal agriculture, per unit of livestock produced (mg/PCU), whilst preserving animal health and welfare.

Implementation: Usage data should be monitored in terms of livestock species and antimicrobial classes, with a particular focus on discontinuing the use of routine prophylactic treatments and medicines classified by WHO (2017] as highest priority critically important to human health.

Goal 2: REPLACE

the use of antimicrobial agents in animal agriculture where possible, with sustainable solutions to prevent diseases such as vaccination and improved husbandry practices, to protect animal health and welfare.

Implementation: Proactive herd/flock health planning and analysis of medicine records should support the identification and control of prevalent diseases on farm, with a view to replacing antibiotic use with sustainable alternatives such as vaccines, biosecurity policies, improved husbandry practices and application of novel technologies.

Goal 3: REFINE

the use of antimicrobial agents in animal agriculture, by ensuring the responsible and informed selection and administration of products to animals that have a clinical indication for treatment.

Implementation: Engage veterinary surgeons in responsible medicine dispensation and communication on correct medicine use (including handling, storage and disposal) to farmers, for animals that have a therapeutic or metaphylactic need for treatment. Support the appropriate use of diagnostic testing, and the training of farm staff involved in animal care on responsible medicine use.

FIGURE 1: ROADMAP FOR ACTION: Our roadmap to reduce, replace and refine antibiotic use in retailer and food service supply chains, using a phased approach – beginning with individual farmer and vet consultation, rolling out farmer-led solutions within a supply chain, and engaging with and disseminating best practice in the industry.

Multi-disciplinary, collaborative action is urgently required to preserve the efficacy of our vital portfolio of antimicrobial agents and address this One Health challenge of global importance. We propose that food companies unify behind a 3Rs approach to ‘replace, reduce and refine’ the use of antimicrobials in livestock supply chains.