The World Health Organization (WHO) has published a new guidance for food safety authorities in Europe about the prevention and control of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in the food supply chain, from a One Health perspective. The document provides an overview of foodborne AMR in Europe and explores the role of food safety authorities in reducing AMR, offering practical advice and examples of successful interventions.

According to WHO, more than 33,000 people die each year in the EU/European Economic Area (EEA) due to infection by antibiotic-resistant bacteria. The use of antibiotics in food animals for treatment and growth promotion has contributed to the global rise of AMR, although efforts have been made to combat the issue in recent years, through initiatives by international organizations and national governments to mitigate and surveil AMR.

To effectively address foodborne AMR, the publication states that food safety authorities must first strengthen national policy and legal frameworks by regulating marketing authorization of antimicrobials, studying the risk of AMR, setting maximum residue limits and generating preclinical data; defining the conditions of use of antimicrobials; and promoting the rational prescription of antimicrobials.

The publication provides a number of recommendations for food safety authorities to consider when working to mitigate foodborne AMR, including:

  • Establishing a food monitoring system for AMR in targeted bacteria; contributing to joint data analysis and reporting efforts across sectors; and participating in multidisciplinary task forces to track AMR trends and risk, involving public health, veterinary, and food authorities
  • In collaboration with the private sector, promoting preventive veterinary medicine and prudent antimicrobial use (AMU) in primary production by: reducing the need for antibiotics through improved animal health, implementing guidelines on AMU in food animals, and eliminating economic incentives that facilitate inappropriate AMU
  • Engaging in advocacy and communication to raise awareness of the food safety perspective of AMR
  • Collecting national data on AMR in relevant bacteria from food animals, food products, and people; using surveillance data in epidemiological research and risk assessments; promoting research that can further improve the understanding of AMR development and transfer; and strengthening research on new antimicrobials and alternative approaches
  • Promoting and supporting the implementation of national action plans on AMR
  • Conducting risk assessments to manage AMR risks.

The new publication highlights the importance of food safety authorities in the fight against AMR, who can use their roles to strengthen One Health governance; promote collaboration across the health, agriculture, environment, and trade/finance sectors; and advocate for formal mechanisms that enable interaction between food safety authorities and other relevant government bodies to address AMR in the food chain.