Russia is backing an FAO-led effort to promote food safety and prevent the spread of medicine-resistant "superbugs" in food and on farms in five countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe with a donation of nearly $3.3 million.
A new Russia-supported FAO project in Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will help national authorities get a better handle the threats posed by antimicrobial resistant microbes in agriculture and food systems.
The bulk of the funding will be used to support action on three broad fronts:
Speaking at an event to mark the start of the joint effort, Anna Popova, head of Russia's Federal Service for Surveillance and Consumer Rights Protection, pledged that her country would bring its significant epidemiological research capacity to bear in support of improved regional cooperation on AMR.
"But AMR is not just a subject for scientific research - it poses very concrete risks to human health, including antibiotic residues in food products," she said.
"We cannot underestimate this threat, and must translate our words into action," Ms Popova added, referencing a ground-breaking international resolution on AMR action made at last year's UN General Assembly.
FAO Deputy Director-General Maria Helena Semedo commended the Russian Federation for its strong commitment to strengthening global food security and nutrition including its backing of FAO's efforts to help countries confront antimicrobial resistance.
"AMR is intimately connected to health, medical care, safe food production systems and the environment. Leaving AMR unchecked would leave a dim vision of the future," she said.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva in a private bilateral meeting with Minister Popova thanked her for Russia's contribution and praised the country for being the first major donor to support AMR-related work in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Conference will support regional awareness raising
The first major push to escalate awareness of AMR in food and agricultural systems in the region will take place next month when FAO and Russia convene an International Conference on Food Safety and Risk Analysis (Sochi, 18-19 May).
The event will bring together more than 350 participants from government, the private sector and the scientific community as well as health and nutrition specialists to exchange experiences and best practices on nutrition and food safety -- including AMR.
What is AMR and why is it a concern in food systems?
The increased use of antimicrobial medicines like antibiotics in human and animal healthcare - as well as abuse and improper use - has contributed to an increase in the number of disease-causing microbes that are resistant to medicines traditionally used to treat them.
This poses considerable risks for human health.
But AMR is a concern not only in hospitals but on farms and in food systems too.
Food can act as a vector that brings humans into contact with AMR pathogens. And animal diseases that are difficult or impossible to treat due to AMR can impact food production and cause financial losses that erode farmers' livelihoods.
International cooperation to beat back the threat
Last September, the international community took unprecedented unified action to respond to the new, emerging threat of AMR by committing to developing national action plans on AMR, based on the Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance - a blueprint for tackling AMR developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in coordination FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Focused primarily on the realm of food and agriculture, FAO's own Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance calls for four lines of action:
Antimicrobials are critical medicines that must remain useful and effective tools in treating and preventing animal diseases. FAO has advocated for reducing or entirely cutting out their use in animal feed as "growth promoters" as an important step aimed at safeguarding their continued efficacy.