The public health threat posed by antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is “everyone’s problem” and must be solved through cross-sector collaboration, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed, has stated.

Speaking at the launch of iNAP, Ireland’s first ‘One Health’ National Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance 2017-2020, Minister Creed said agricultural solutions need to focus on optimising animal health and reducing the need to use antibiotics in the first place.

Farm organisations have largely welcomed the joint action plan. However, some warn that reduced use of farmyard antibiotics may lead to animal welfare issues and increased production costs.

The plan, presented yesterday by Minister Creed and Minister for Health, Simon Harris, follows on from the establishment of a National Interdepartmental Antimicrobial Resistance Consultative Committee in 2014.

“It is only by working together that we can solve this problem and avert a very serious public health crisis that faces us, our families and our communities.

“We must ensure that when antibiotics are used, that they are used in accordance with prudent use guidelines,” said Minister Creed.

Good progress has already been made in certain areas; but further work needs to be done if we are to combat the growing threat of AMR. Both Minister Harris and I believe that iNAP will give overarching support and direction to all the good work that is already in train across different sectors at national level.

“The fact is, animals and humans share the same environment and are exposed to the same families of bacteria and are treated with essentially the same groups of antibiotics,” he said.

While debate continues over the extent to which farmyard antibiotics contributes directly to resistance infections in humans, Minister Creed said “it is clear that resistance does develop in bacteria found in animals and farm environments”.

There is evidence that this resistance is increasing and that it can transmit to humans directly, through contact, shared environments and through food products.

However, the bacteria can also be transmitted through non-animal based foods.

With ambitious targets in place to grow Ireland’s agri-food exports, Minister Creed stressed the importance of meeting consumer expectations and concerns in key world markets.

Consumer role

“Consumers are taking much more interest in how the food they consume reaches their plates. People are becoming more aware of antimicrobial resistance as a threat to their health and this is leading to a growth for more antibiotic free products.

“Consumers also have a role to play. Farmers need to achieve a particular price for their produce if they are to have sufficient funds to invest in measures to prevent disease and reduce antibiotics use,” he said.

The iNAP initiative was developed, by various public and private stakeholders, following the World Health Organisation Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance.

The plan contains strategic interventions and activities across human health, animal health and environmental sectors.

Is aims to: improve awareness and knowledge of AMR; enhance surveillance of antibiotic resistance and antibiotic use; reduce the spread of infection and disease; optimize the use of antibiotics in human and animal health; and promote research and sustainable investment in new medicines, diagnostic tools, vaccines and other interventions.

Farmer role

John Comer, president of the Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association (ICMSA) welcomed the move.

“It is vital that we have such a committee set up. ICMSA wholeheartedly supported and participated in the plan. We don’t agree with every line, but we are fully supportive because it is in the national interest. It is crucial that we get results in this area,” he said.

Patrick Kent, president of the Irish Cattle and Sheep Farmers Association (ICSA) said the plan will help to protect markets and improve prices.

It is a positive step, as farmers we are very responsible and we believe in producing food to the highest standards. However, we also want a commensurate return financially.

Bert Stewart, animal health chairman of the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), said: “Farmers will play their part, but the major contributors are not to be found inside the farm gate.

“It is very easy to reach a populist conclusion on this issue that does not address the real causes of antimicrobial resistance; if that is allowed to happen we will all be the losers.

“We need to consider very carefully the consequences of reducing necessary antibiotic use in animals, which can have serious animal welfare and health implications and increase production costs for very little, if any, contribution towards reducing antimicrobial resistance,” he concluded.