New cross-Government project aims to improve AMR surveillance across the food chain

The NPA has welcomed a new £19.2 million cross-Government surveillance programme to improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant (AMR) pathogens through the agri-food system.

The Pathogen Surveillance in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (PATH-SAFE) project brings together the Food Standards Agency (FSA), Food Standards Scotland (FSS), the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), Public Health England (PHE) and the Environment Agency to test the application of genomic technologies in the surveillance of foodborne pathogens and AMR microbes in all four nations of the UK.

The £19.2m, awarded through the Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund, will support a three-year project to develop a pilot national surveillance network. The project will use the latest DNA-sequencing technology and environmental sampling to improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant pathogens through the whole agri-food system from farm to fork.

A new database will permit the analysis, storage and sharing of pathogen sequence and source data, collected from multiple locations across the UK by both government and public organisations.

Professor Robin May, FSA Chief Scientific Adviser, said foodborne disease in the UK is estimated to cause around 2.4 million cases of illness a year, costing society an estimated at over £9bn per year.

“This project is designed to help safeguard UK food, agriculture and consumers by using cutting edge technology to understand how pathogens and AMR spread. Tracking the source of these issues will ultimately help us to develop better control strategies to reduce illness and deaths,” he said.

Professor Gideon Henderson, Chief Scientific Adviser for Defra said: “UK sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals have halved in the last six years.  This vital new project will build on that progress, and ensure antibiotics continue to remain effective for both people and animals.”

Dame Sally Davies, UK Special Envoy on AMR, said: “Building on the progress made at the G7 meetings this year, this new project will help us identify how pathogens and AMR spread, through analysing food, environment and health factors. Through this joined-up approach we will be able to take decisive action to save thousands of lives every year.”

NPA senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale welcomed the project. “We hope it will build on the significant progress already made with regard to the responsible use of antibiotics in the pig sector,” she said.

“The project takes a One Health approach, which is important because we should consider any challenge, such as AMR, in a multi-dimensional way.

“We also hope there will be the opportunity to utilise data in a way that could help improve the health of our national pig herd.”

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.