We tend to take our medicines for granted. Thanks to Sir Alexander Fleming, so many serious illnesses (such as tuberculous and pneumonia) which used to cause fatalities in past centuries have been brought under control with the help of antibiotics. However, the over use and abuse of antibiotics in the 21st century has created a new and acute problem: AMR – an intolerance to antibiotics. Although this is a global problem in the food industry, South East Asia – and especially Thailand – in recent years has been suffering from this growing issue.
The latest statistics suggest that more than 30,000 people’s lives in Thailand are lost to AMR now every year.1 The Thai government has recognised the urgency to find solutions to the problem and in 2017 launched a 4 year national plan (in accordance with the “One Health Approach”) to fight AMR strategically.
Why is AMR happening?
Antibiotics have saved millions of lives but unfortunately because they are being used so often, bacteria is rapidly developing a resistance to them. It seems in some cases antibiotics are used as a quick and easy fix in medicine too often. They also may be used where they will really have no effect at all (I.e. in trying to fight viruses). Antibiotics are also used in agriculture – on animals – in some countries to an extreme effect meaning that animals are also becoming tolerant to the benefits of antibiotics. Medics believe that unless firm restrictions and boundaries are placed around the use of antibiotics soon, even very minor infections could prove to be fatal.
What issues are specific to Thailand?
The goal of the nationwide plan in Thailand is to reduce the antimicrobial use in people and animals by up to 30% by 2021. Grisada Boonrach, the minister of agriculture and cooperatives for Thailand, has commented that it is important for all sectors to work together in order to reach this goal. He went on to say that “…the whole country is facing a complex problem that requires comprehensive and unified collaboration. Thailand is joining together to make a change locally in order to make a global impact against AMR.”
Private companies in the Thai food industry have welcomed the new initiative. A representative from CP Foods (CPF), Thailand’s largest food producer, commented “Global Vision on Antimicrobials Use in Animals” to affirm the sustainable production of safe and quality food as well as comply with government policy.”
Creating a plan for the future
CP Foods have detailed 5 specific areas that they will be focusing on in line with the One Health approach:
1. To provide global best practices of responsible antimicrobial use in food for animals, requiring prudent use. This principal will be at the forefront of all other policies regarding AMR.
2. To eliminate the use of shared-class antimicrobials that are medically important for human medicine for growth promotion purposes globally.
3. To work with global partners to identify new and better ways to care for animals to enhance animal welfare and reduce the need for antimicrobials. The last thing the farming community in Thailand wants is to put their animals at risk. Of course this is not just compassionate factors that is triggering change but also fo commercial reasons as well. However, a healthy animal is an asset in agriculture.There is a strong feeling that rather than putting animals lives at risk, paying attention to AMR can only enhance the quality of life for an animal.
4. To increase the role of the veterinarian in antimicrobial oversight. Rather than use tried and tested processes, this principle focuses on using the expertise of the vet to a greater extent within the food industry. Overall, there is a strong feeling that if the quality of life for an animal is good there will subsequently be less reliance on antibiotics.
5. To develop an AMR monitoring program with national and international organisations.What will determine whether all these factors are successful or not is whether all businesses within the food and agricultural industry follow the same principles (suppliers and competition). It is recognised that both on a national and an international basis commercial organisations can learn from each other.
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