The global threat of antibiotics becoming ineffective from overuse generated several apocalyptic scenarios that grabbed the public imagination. These antimicrobial resistance (AMR) ‘superbug’ scenarios helped governments recalibrate policies and regulate to reduce human use of antibiotics. Surprisingly, the other main contributor to AMR - antibiotics used in food production - received less attention.
The World Health (WHO), Food and Agriculture (FAO) and Animal Health (OIE) agencies' collaborative work on AMR over many years produced research and policy options to reduce antibiotic use in food production. But with a few exceptions, progress at the national level in this key economic sector has been slow.
But the risk assessment for AMR has now shifted substantially in response to research in China revealing the development of resistance to the antibiotic colistin. This new resistance, labeled MCR-1, discovered in food producing animals has also been found in humans, animals, pets and food. AMR experts were even more shocked to then discover MCR-1 in over 30 countries. Colistin is on the WHO's Critically Important Antimicrobial list but continues to be used in food production in many countries, including the EU.
Worth noting, the US strategically preserves colistin exclusively for human use as a critical last-line antibiotic, including for treating injuries received in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed to a strain of bacteria in the soil (labeled by media as Iraqibacter). But despite taking such precautions MCR-1 was discovered in two unrelated incidents in the US.