AMR and animal health in Australia

Food producing animals in Australia have not become resistant to antibiotics important to human medicine. This is because we have effective steps in place to prevent and manage antimicrobial resistance in food producing animals.

What Australia is doing about the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals

  • Australia has measures in place to prevent and manage antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in food producing animals. These include antimicrobial stewardship resources for veterinarians and food producing animal industries:
    • Steps and principles for good antimicrobial stewardship in food producing animal industries,
  • Antimicrobial information and mitigating use in food producing animal industries. Australia has not registered the following antibiotics for use in food producing animals:
    • fluoroquinolones (important antibiotics for human medicine)
    • colistin (a last resort antibiotic for humans)
    • fourth generation cephalosporins (a last resort antibiotic for humans).
  • As a result, food animals in Australia have not become resistant to these antibiotics important to human medicine.
  • Government and industry collect data to monitor AMR in pigs, chicken meat, chicken eggs and salmon.
  • In 2014, the Australian Government commissioned a report on antibiotic resistance and use in Australian livestock and agriculture industries. The report provided direction for planning future surveillance and reporting of AMR in Australia.

Important current activities

Australian animal industries are one of the lowest users of antimicrobials in the world. Testing of AMR in some of our major livestock and seafood industries has shown there is little to no resistance to antimicrobials. Below are some examples of how industry, government and research are working together to maintain and improve this status.

AMR Vet Collective: VetAMS online learning program

The AMR Vet Collective translates the science behind antimicrobial resistance (AMR) into easily-accessible, practical resources that veterinarians can use to better inform their prescribing decisions. The AMR Vet Collective website includes:

  • examples of AMR in animals
  • prescribing support for veterinarians through decision trees and guidelines
  • an online learning program.

The Veterinary Antimicrobial Stewardship (VetAMS) online learning program provides educational materials which prepare participants to become leaders in veterinary antimicrobial stewardship. This program provides information to assist in prudent antimicrobial use. Vets can also earn Continuing Professional Development (CPD) points for every completed module. This is a registration requirement designed to ensure vets maintain their skills and knowledge to provide the best possible service.

Recently updated with 2 new modules, the 9 scenario-centred interactive modules are available on the VetAMS website.

Australia’s Animal Sector Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan

Australian animal sector stakeholders agreed to provide strategic, national and coordinated support to the ‘Australia’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy – 2020 and Beyond’. This is done through an industry specific antimicrobial resistance (AMR) action plan.

Developed by the animal sector for the animal sector, this plan includes several priority activities that stem from the One Health Master Action Plan. It builds on the animal sector’s already extensive work to address AMR.

We have consulted with key stakeholder groups to ensure that this action plan is fit-for-purpose and practical. The draft action plan went out for wider consultation via the Department’s Have Your Say platform. We welcomed feedback on the plan from all members of the animal sector.

Understanding antimicrobial prescribing behaviour in the veterinary industry

There are many reasons why veterinarians may prescribe antimicrobials. Understanding these decisions helps to plan antimicrobial stewardship initiatives that target the main difficulties veterinarians face. The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has contracted the University of Melbourne to survey:

  • the prescribing decisions and attitudes of veterinarians
  • veterinary client expectations.

The results from the survey will inform the development of communication and educational material that can aid vets in their decisions and encourage behavioural change.

Good news in AMR surveillance

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry has recently worked with some of our major livestock industries to assess the levels of AMR in animals.

Over the last few years we have done surveillance studies to assess the levels of AMR in the following industries:

  • pork
  • chicken meat and egg
  • barramundi and salmon.

Pleasingly, all studies showed that the level of AMR was either low or negligible against antimicrobials of human importance. These results are encouraging and showed that our animal industry provides little risk to AMR.

The Australian livestock industry has a good reputation for demonstrating sound antimicrobial stewardship practices and ensuring the health and welfare of their animals is paramount. These surveys show that our farming sectors are achieving positive outcomes – for the industry, for consumers and for the wider community. Reports for completed surveys are available on the websites of the participating industry peak bodies. There is always more we can do, and our industries continue to lead the way.

How Australia’s use of antimicrobials compares to other countries

  • Australia has one of the most conservative approaches in the world to the use of antimicrobials in food producing animals.
  • Australia is a world leader in minimising the use of antibiotics in food producing animals.
  • In a 2015 United Kingdom review, Australia was ranked the fifth-lowest for antibiotic use in agriculture among the 29 countries examined.

Who controls antimicrobials for animal use in Australia

  • The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) evaluates and registers antimicrobials for animal use in Australia. This involves a risk assessment, including the risk of AMR developing.
  • Nearly all antimicrobials used in animals are Schedule 4 medicines, meaning a veterinarian must prescribe them.
  • Veterinary surgeons’ boards exist in each state and territory in Australia. Each board controls the practice of veterinary science in line with state or territory laws. This includes how veterinarians use, prescribe and supply antimicrobials.
  • By law, states and territories are responsible for controlling the use of all veterinary medicines.

Where to find information about antimicrobials for animal use

Do animals in Australia carry bacteria resistant to antimicrobials?

  • A number of surveys done in Australia in recent years show a low risk of AMR in the food animal sector.
  • A survey of bacteria in healthy animals was published in 2007. The researchers found very low levels of resistance to antimicrobials used to treat people.
  • Studies in 2015 and 2017 did not find bacteria from cattle resistant to antibiotics important in human medicine.
  • E. coli bacteria from companion and food animals show a very low resistance to antimicrobials important for human medicine.

Is food from animals safe to eat in Australia?

Research found bacteria in food had low levels of resistance to the majority of antibiotics. This included whole poultry, pork chops, beef mince and iceberg lettuce. Also, the bacteria in food showed no or little resistance to antibiotics important for human medicine. These medicines included the quinolone class of drugs and third and fourth generation cephalosporins.

What you can I do

Everyone can play a role in protecting Australia against AMR.

If you are a researcher or project leader, register your current AMR activities on the research and activity hub.

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