Mar 13, 2016 News
The overuse of antibiotics given to animals that are later served as meat in the food industry is slated to be high on the agenda when World Consumer Rights Day (WCRD) is observed on Tuesday. Given the emphasis this year, the observance will be held under the theme “Antibiotics Resistance”
The overuse of antibiotics in livestock is a growing concern largely because it allows resistant bacteria and resistance genes to spread from these animals to humans through the food-chain. As a result, human infections with antibiotic resistant bacteria can be difficult or impossible to cure, and may lead to death in some instances. Moreover, because livestock and foods of animal origin are traded worldwide, this could contribute to antibiotic resistance in countries which are far removed from where the problem originates.
This state of affairs has been emphasised jointly by the CARICOM Competition Commission (CCC) and the Caribbean Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA).
The two entities have stressed that “the need to act now in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) is therefore imperative, given the fact that as net food importing countries the Member States of CARICOM are certainly not immune to this new global threat.”
In 2013 alone, the region imported approximately US$19.8 billion in meats and edible offal from extra-regional partners. Additionally, many CARICOM countries are home to several international fast food restaurants such as McDonalds, Burger King and Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC), which may import meats and meat products consumed in large quantities by nationals. Consequently, a careful approach must be taken and strategies developed and implemented to protect CARICOM consumers from antibiotic resistant foods and the dangers associated with them.
In light of this, CCC and the CAHFSA believe that holistic, inter-sectoral and multifaceted approaches must be developed both at the national and regional levels in CARICOM. This integrated approach would facilitate the effective coordination of resources and actions needed to control the importation, sale/distribution, and most importantly the use of antimicrobials in order to deal with this critical issue.
It is also the view of the CCC that national consumer protection agencies (NCPAs) within the region have a significant role to play in national strategies to curb antibiotic resistance caused in this manner.
NCPAs are designed to protect the rights of consumers as well as to ensure the availability of accurate information about products in the market place. NCPAs are ideally equipped to collaborate with other national stakeholders and agencies to raise public awareness of antibiotic resistance, and to prevent its development and spread in the food-chain.
At the regional level, CARICOM has identified antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as an important public and agricultural health issue.
Accordingly, an AMR workshop was held in Paramaribo, Suriname, in October 2014 as part of the activities to commemorate Caribbean Week of Agriculture. At that workshop, the Chair, then Minister of Agriculture, Guyana, Dr Leslie Ramsammy, opposed the widespread use of antibiotics in agriculture, saying that this has serious implications for human health.
In January 2015, another workshop organized by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) was held in Trinidad and Tobago.
The objectives of this workshop were to heighten awareness among senior policy makers and public and private sector officials on the issue of AMR and to chart the way forward on the role of governmental organizations and the private sector in monitoring AMR.
An outcome of the 2015 workshop was an agreement on the need to control the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry and in human health, through an integrated AMR Surveillance System at the national level and to collect relevant data that will assist regional institutions in making informed decisions.
Consequently, CAHFSA is in the process of putting a system in place to collect data on the use of antibiotics in animal husbandry in Member States, and to establish electronic data bases nationally and regionally to process this data, to assist the region in making informed decisions.
Additionally, the workshop agreed on the need to adopt and implement international standards to monitor AMR and the usage of antimicrobial agents.
These standards have already been developed by the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the World Animal Health Organization (OIE). They are presently being examined by CAHFSA with a view to recommending their adoption as regional standards.
According to the organizations, “It is important to note that several institutions of the CARICOM Community have vital roles to play in tackling this very serious issue.” An integrated strategy needs to be developed for regional institutions responsible for protecting consumer welfare, whether directly or indirectly.
In this regard, the CCC intends to collaborate with these agencies to develop a communications strategy to educate CARICOM consumers, and to ensure that mechanisms are in place to carefully monitor the importation of meats from extra-regional trading partners.
Moreover, for WCRD 2016, the international consumer protection community is once again tackling the issue of consumer health and diets.
The focus in 2015, was on encouraging consumers to make smarter decisions on the foods they eat, while calling on food producers to reduce the level of salt, sugar and fat found in processed foods.
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