Moving forward with antimicrobial resistance

Part 4: Exercising positive leadership is essential to move forward on the issue of antimicrobial resistance.

By Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension

In an issue as important as antimicrobial resistance, there has been pressure by members of Congress to legislate a solution. Several different bills have been introduced including PAMTA, the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act. This act would restrict “medically important” drugs from being used for “non-therapeutic” use in food animals.

This is just one response of those who believe that the solution to antimicrobial resistance is as easy as legislation. In this final part of a four-part series on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), we look at a few of the areas of research to reduce the proliferation of AMR.

If antimicrobial resistance is in fact caused by a complex set of factors of which we don’t fully understand, then it is completely possible that a law like this would have no effect on the problem, and yet create problems of its own.

There are those who say it is best to discontinue the use of anything that might cause a problem. They say that while we don’t know if it causes a problem, it is best not to take any chances. Another camp takes the exact opposite view that no action should be taken until a cause-effect relationship is established. By most measures, both camps would be incorrect.

There are many who believe that the way forward on this issue is through additional work, good sense and right motive. Each producer, practitioner, consumer and policy maker has an obligation to seek truth in this important issue and to focus on interests rather than positions.

As reported by Dr. Cyril Gay of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the NIAA conference on antimicrobial resistance, novel methods for treating infectious diseases are being explored, some of which use new technology and others examine old practices that have a degree of effectiveness. This work is being done around the world and was also discussed at an international conference held in Sept. 2012 in Paris, France on Alternatives to Antibiotics.

At Michigan State University, researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine are seeking to identify, implement and evaluate sustainable mitigation strategies to lower the development, dissemination and accumulation of antimicrobial resistance. Their aim is to test certain intervention practices on farms and to measure the impact on resistance genes.

Reducing AMR must be a holistic, systematic approach that focuses on health, sanitation and environment. For antibiotics to be replaced, there must be alternatives that achieve the same or better results.

The issue of antimicrobial resistance is not an issue in isolation. It is an issue occurring as world agriculture faces the challenge of feeding a global population estimated to be 9 billion people by 2050. It’s an issue that falls within the context of agricultural producers who operate businesses with traditionally slim profit margins, so we have to be careful about seemingly easy answers that may cause producers to bear the load without knowing if these “answers” will actually make a difference in AMR.

According to Ron DeHaven, Executive Vice President of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “There is little evidence that suggests that the decreased use of antimicrobials in food animals would improve human health or reduce the risk of AMR in humans.”

No one is making a case for excusing excesses in antibiotic use. Rather the solution will be achieved by working in a common direction by scientists in human and veterinary medicine and the environment. The common interest we all share is health.

An organization called One Health Commission is working to do just that, with the mission of “establishment of closer professional interactions, collaborations, and educational and research opportunities across the health sciences professions, together with their related disciplines, to improve the health of people, animals, plants and our environment.”

The conference on antibiotic resistance organized by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture was the second such conference they have hosted on AMR. It was another step by this organization to bring light and fact to an issue that sometimes garners fear through smoke and mirrors. A white paper from the conference will be published on the National Institute of Animal Agriculture website.

By Phil Durst, Michigan State University Extension

Related articles:

Antibiotic resistant bacteria issue demands action (Part 1)

What is antimicrobial resistance? (Part 2)

Where does antimicrobial resistance come from? (Part 3)