Farming groups have welcomed a new £19.2m government programme to improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant pathogens through the agri-food system.
The cross-departmental project team behind Pathogen Surveillance in Agriculture, Food and the Environment (PATH-SAFE) has been awarded funding through HM Treasury’s Shared Outcomes Fund.
It will test the application of genomic technologies in the surveillance of foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial resistant (AMR) microbes in all four nations of the UK.
£19.2m funding will support a three-year project to develop a pilot national surveillance network, using the latest DNA-sequencing technology and environmental sampling.
The team, which includes Defra, say this will improve the detection and tracking of foodborne and antimicrobial resistant pathogens through the ‘whole agri-food system from farm to fork’.
The heart of this ‘virtual’ network will be a new database that will permit the analysis, storage and sharing of pathogen sequence.
It will also source data, collected from multiple locations across the UK by both government and public organisations.
It comes as figures show that UK sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals have halved in the last six years.
Professor Gideon Henderson, chief scientific adviser for Defra said: “Antimicrobial resistance poses a major risk to public health.
“The loss of functional antibiotics has the potential to cause 10 million additional global deaths every year by 2050.
“This vital new project will build on that progress, and ensure antibiotics continue to remain effective for both people and animals.”
The National Pig Association (NPA) welcomed the project, pointing to the ‘significant progress’ already made in regard to the responsible use of antibiotics in the pig sector.
Senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale 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.