Although we can not see them, micro-organisms play an unnoticed important role in many areas of our lives. Without micro-beings, life would be impossible. This includes bacteria, protozoa, algae, and fungi. Antimicrobial-resistant organisms are found in people, animals, food, plants, water, soil and air. They can quickly spread from person to person or between persons and animals, killing or slowly spreading microorganisms. In the agricultural sector, it is desired to avoid animal and crop diseases as they may lead to unsuccessful farming and harvesting. Therefore, antimicrobials are used to keep crops and animals free from any microorganisms. However, due to improper use or overuse, we are now facing the downside of these pesticides.
Unfortunately, the injection of antibiotics plays a big role in agriculture. Antibiotics are mixed into animals and/or their feed and sprayed onto fruit trees to prevent and treat infections. Naturally, the transfer of resistance is taking place due to, amongst others, the consumption of meat. This transferal of resistance is already having an effect as global resistance to antibiotics is increasing, meaning that medicines that were once effective treatments for disease in people and animals become less effective or not effective at all.
To prevent this from happening, the EU has set up the Farm2Fork Strategy which has an objective to reduce the overall EU sales of antimicrobials for farmed animals and in aquaculture by 2030 with 50%. Similarly, the Common Agricultural Policy is a tool to help shape the EU’s path toward sustainable food systems. However, the majority of CAP Strategic Plans do not plan these specific interventions targeting antimicrobial reduction. Reductions are expected to solely be achieved through actions on animal welfare or organic farming, or not outlined within the CAP.
By implementing measures, the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy can be a tool to successfully reduce antimicrobial use and thus the increased resistance plants and mammals have harboured. Being responsible for an estimated 33,000 deaths per year in the EU, antibiotic resistance results in people dying from infections such as influenza and tuberculosis. Adjusting CAP to these urgent developments, improvement can be made in the European health sector, but also in animal welfare and biodiversity. In the environment, consequences are also being observed as antimicrobials spread everywhere and do not know borders. Polluted water, soil and air will result in more resistance to antimicrobials.
Luckily, the new EU obligation requires Member States to spend at least 25% of their direct payments budget allocations on eco-schemes, which can include practices to set improvements on animal welfare and combating anti-microbial resistance. Nonetheless, the obligations do not call for immediate action. Considering the targets and measures set out by the Farm2Fork strategy to reduce antimicrobial use, these are not reflected in the newly revised Common Agricultural Policy. Given the financial and administrative efforts it constitutes, this is a missed opportunity. Aiming toward positive change in agriculture, CAP can certainly not overlook the alarming developments and needs to invest in limiting antimicrobials at once.
Written by Suzi Westen
Graphic by Micheal Worful