USDA Reflects on Decade of Antimicrobial Resistance Response
Antimicrobial drugs revolutionized the agriculture and veterinary industries when first introduced in the 1960's, but subsequent overuse has contributed to the grave public health threat of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) hosted a public meeting on Aug. 30, 2022 to share what the agency has learned about AMR across the One Health interfaces of food safety, animal and human health and the environment over the last decade. Experts from across USDA’s programs and partners at other federal agencies also outlined challenges for furthering the science on AMR in the future.
AMR is of particular interest to USDA, as it can affect livestock, animal-derived food products, crops and consumers on a health and economic level. USDA developed its Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan in 2012, following feedback from a stakeholder workshop. The plan outlined a comprehensive, integrated approach for future surveillance; research and development; and education, extension and outreach activities. Though progress has been made in the last 10 years, there is more work to be done.
"A comprehensive approach to AMR must go beyond any single sector, and unite public, private, industry and international stakeholders," said Steven Kappes, Ph.D., Associate Administrator for the Office of National Programs at USDA’s Agricultural Research Service. Prior to the creation of the action plan, decisions were driven largely in the absence of data, he elaborated. The 2012 workshop helped identify areas where more data were needed, and USDA and other federal agencies have since implemented multiple national monitoring programs. Over the last decade, USDA’s National Animal Health Monitoring System has led 9 voluntary studies in collaboration with industry to test for AMR in healthy populations of equines, swine and poultry on a national level. The National Animal Health Laboratory Network, working in partnership with veterinary organizations, conducts similar surveillance in sick animals, which informs mitigation and antibiotic stewardship best practices.
Data collection helps inform activities at the Agricultural Research Service, a non-regulatory arm of USDA that is working to develop alternatives to antibiotics, novel approaches to AMR pathogens, risk tools and detection strategies. Their most recent successes include discovering a bacterial gene in meat (mcr-1) that increases resistance to colistin and describing the role of DNA megaplasmids in antimicrobial and metal resistance in Salmonella infantis, one of the most prevalent foodborne pathogens causing human illness.
USDA's Goals for Improvement
Still, the agency hopes to expand its efforts to combat AMR, and identified several areas of potential growth:
Data Visualization and Interpretation: The complex nature of AMR surveillance makes it challenging to deliver real-time results to the public in an accessible way. USDA also shares data with federal agencies focused heavily on AMR issues related to human health, but it can be difficult to marry animal data with these findings. For example, human breakpoints don’t extrapolate to animal breakpoints.
Partner and Stakeholder Collaborations: USDA works with a wide range of industry, agricultural and veterinary groups, many of whom participate on a voluntary basis. Because of this, data collection is based heavily on response rates. USDA is examining ways to reduce the burden of self-reporting as well as ensure stakeholders with various needs can receive valuable information from their participation.
Expanding Monitoring to New Areas: Although USDA has gathered large datasets from certain industries, it lacks data for other smaller segments, as well as robust, centralized data for companion animals. Though the National Wildlife Research Center has conducted monitoring on AMR at the wildlife-agriculture interface, more research is needed to understand how these interactions take place and what magnitude they play in AMR transmission between species.