Food samples are regularly tested for a wide range of food hazards such as drug residues including antibiotics.
Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is a serious threat to public health around the world. Microorganisms, such as bacteria and viruses, can mutate to become resistant to antimicrobial agents like antibiotics and antivirals to ensure their own survival. This makes it harder to treat common infections, as well as infections arising from complications due to medical procedures such as surgery or chemotherapy.
The emergence of AMR is a natural occurrence among microorganisms, but the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials has sped up the development of resistance among disease-causing microorganisms (pathogens). Over time, we have seen an increased number of pathogens developing resistance to multiple antimicrobials. As a result, patients and animals (including livestock) infected with multi-drug resistant pathogens will have fewer and limited treatment options.
To combat this problem, a National Strategic Action Plan on AMR has been developed by the One Health Antimicrobial Resistance Workgroup, comprising the Ministry of Health, AVA, National Environment Agency, and PUB, Singapore's National Water Agency. The plan is being implemented using a One Health approach, recognising that the AMR issue cuts across sectors, and requires a concerted effort by all relevant stakeholders and the community. The plan aims to reduce the emergence, and prevent the spread of, drug-resistant microorganisms through these five core strategies:
Ultimately, the global fight against AMR aims to preserve the effectiveness of medicines to treat infectious diseases for as long as possible.
AVA's role in combating AMR
AVA has in place an integrated food safety system based on science and risk analysis to safeguard food safety. All food products, whether imported or locally produced, are required to comply with our safety standards and requirements. For example, only certain antibiotics are allowed to be used in animals, and antibiotic residues found in food must not exceed maximum residue levels (MRL).
As part of our food safety programme, food products are regularly inspected and sampled for compliance with our food safety standards and requirements. Samples are tested for a wide range of food hazards such as chemical contaminants (e.g. pesticide residues, heavy metals, drug residues including antibiotics) and microbial contaminants (e.g. harmful bacteria like E Coli, Salmonella, Listeria). Food that is found to be unsafe will not be allowed for sale.
On top of our food safety surveillance and tests, AVA also takes an active role in regional efforts to combat AMR in the livestock and aquaculture sectors, including working with Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) members to develop regional guidelines on antimicrobial use in food producing animals. This has produced the ASEAN Guidelines on Prudent Use of Antimicrobials in Livestock as well as the ASEAN Cooperation Activities for AMR in the Aquaculture Sector. AVA also shares technical expertise and experience with other countries through activities such as conducting regional training workshops for antibiotic residue testing. AVA will also play a role in coordinating the efforts between the ASEAN livestock and aquaculture sectors.
For local produce, AVA works with local farmers to implement good animal husbandry practices (e.g. vaccinations) to prevent disease incursion and manage diseases, which would reduce the use of veterinary drugs including antibiotics. We have been working with vaccine companies to provide regular talks to farmers and develop vaccines. Nevertheless, AVA recognises that antibiotics are necessary for the treatment of bacterial infections in animals and when used appropriately, contributes to the health of animals. To this end, AVA advises local farmers to use antibiotics prudently.
The use of vaccinations, for example, can reduce the need for antibiotics. Here, an AVA scientist is conducting a safety trial on an autogenous vaccine for fish.
Notwithstanding, AVA monitors the use of veterinary drugs (e.g. antibiotics) in our farms. This is done through reviewing veterinary drug wholesalers’ records of sales of veterinary drugs to farms and veterinary clinics. Farms are encouraged to undergo certification under AVA’s accreditation schemes, such as the Singapore Quality Egg Scheme, as well as the Good Aquaculture Practices for Food Fish scheme that recognises farmers’ efforts in implementing good animal husbandry practices.
In Singapore, antibiotics are not allowed to be used for promoting the growth of animals, and certain antibiotics are prohibited for use in food-producing animals. Farmers who use antibiotics in their animals are required to observe a certain time period (known as withdrawal period) before the animals or animal products can be slaughtered or sold. This will ensure that the antibiotics are passed out of the animals’ systems, and any residual antibiotics are at trace levels below the MRLs. AVA also regularly tests local produce to ensure that they do not contain residues of banned substances, and permissible substances do not exceed MRLs.
The community has a role too
Nonetheless, food can be contaminated anywhere along the food chain. While AVA continues to be vigilant and works closely with stakeholders to ensure that regulatory measures are in place and properly enforced, our efforts to safeguard food safety will be in vain if consumers do not practise good food safety habits. For example, meats should be cooked thoroughly as harmful bacteria, which can be found in raw meat, can be eliminated by thorough cooking.
Pet owners are also advised to keep their pets healthy and bring their pets for regular check-ups by their veterinarians. Pet owners should also consult and adhere to their veterinarians’ advice on the correct medications to use on their pets. Antibiotics are not always necessary, as not every infectious disease requires antibiotics.
Pet owners can play a part in fighting AMR, by consulting and adhering to their veterinarians’ advice on the correct medications to use on their pets. Antibiotics are not always necessary.
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Last updated on Tuesday, April 14, 2020