SETAC Globe - Environmental Quality Through Science
15 December 2016
Volume 17 Issue 12

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Summary of the Life Cycle Mapping of Antimicrobial Compounds Workshop

Bruce Vigon, SETAC; Rai Kookana, CSIRO; Janet Whaley, Exponent, Inc.; Kriengkrai Satapornvanit, Kasetsart University; Andrew Singer, NERC Centre for Ecology and Hydrology; Karina Gin Yew-Hoong, National University of Singapore; Jessica Petrillo, U.S. State Department; Kristian Koefoed Brandt, University of Copenhagen; Jeremy Conkle, Texas A&M University Corpus Christi; David Walter, U.S. Geological Survey; and Vernon Somerset, University of the Western Cape–South Africa

AMR Workshop ParticipantsSubstantial quantities of human and veterinary antibiotics are routinely used and consequently introduced to food production and water supply systems throughout the world. Yet, routes of exposure by which humans, animals and all other biota may be exposed to these chemicals and the implications to antibiotic resistance development remain poorly understood. Although usage in livestock production is believed to be much greater than in aquaculture, these data are subject to considerable uncertainty, and the resulting environmental contamination and risk is unclear. Both regulated and unregulated use of antibiotics in developing countries located in Southeast Asia likely leads to higher environmental exposures with implications to human, animal and ecological health. While there are considerable difficulties in studying the release and resulting biological effects in modern agricultural and aquacultural systems, considerable challenges also exist in methods for assessing use, sampling and analyzing these residues, and in determining their ability to cause environmental dissemination of antibiotic resistance. 

The technical workshop was hosted by the U.S. State Department, in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey and SETAC. Participants were provided with an excellent opportunity to learn and share how antimicrobial resistance affects Southeast Asia and associated countries that have environmental or economic links with the region. Overall, the SETAC members who participated in this two-day technical workshop expressed the view that it was an organized and well-planned event. Although the title of the workshop was “Mapping the Life Cycle of Antibiotics in Southeast Asia,” the potential implications are relevant in all developing countries and regions where monetary resources and technical expertise are constrained.

The workshop brought together different fields of study, such as soil sciences, environmental sciences, microbial ecology, chemistry, public health, veterinary medicine and social science, in a unique way. Approximately 50 people from 12 different countries across North America, Asia, Africa, Australia and Europe participated in this workshop, which provided an opportunity for representatives of different sectors (local and regional officials, business, academia, and national and international government agencies) to discuss issues related to antibiotic life cycle mapping. The breakout groups had lively discussions, which helped to hone in on topics of importance.

This workshop afforded a good platform for participants from the countries of the Mekong River Basin to provide an overview of practices in aquaculture and farming activities that use antimicrobial products in feeds as growth promoters, disease treatment and prophylaxis. Through discussion, breakout sessions and game-playing, ideas were shared on the advantages and disadvantages of various practices. We were also able to learn what academia, research organizations, businesses, government and affiliated organizations are doing to protect the environment, consumers, service providers and regulating authorities.

It also became evident that not enough is done to protect consumers and especially the farm workers in rural areas. It is in this area that “citizen science” can play a huge role in educating the general population, with excellent examples shared by workshop participants. Participants also learned how activities in citizen science can harness the assistance of the population in collecting scientific data. The examples provided during the workshop showed how local residents can make a difference through grassroot-type projects. However, the workshop also showed that there is a strikingly low public awareness of the antimicrobial resistance crisis in the lower Mekong region and that other societal challenges are currently higher on the priority of local agendas (such as use of water resources). Raising awareness among public leaders, farmers and affected citizens, addressing the communication issues that exist among these sectors, and understanding the real costs of such a complex issue will be a huge challenge going forward.

The following are some recollections and observations from individual SETAC participants:

“I learned that data is already available on environmental aspects of the Mekong River Catchment, with some modelling results available that can be adapted to suit the objectives of the antimicrobial resistance workshop. As a novice in the modelling of environmental data, I enjoyed an excellent opportunity to learn more about this area of environmental science.”


“Slowing the spread of antimicrobial resistance is a complex issue that requires the coordination and cooperation of chemists (environmental, analytical, pharmacological, etc.), biologists (environmental, microbial, geneticists, etc.), stakeholder (users of antibiotics, aquaculturists, farmers, etc.), policy makers (local, regional, national and international) and antibiotic manufacturers. From my perspective as an environmental chemist, the use of antibiotics should be a last resort rather than the first line of defense, prophylactic, or for growth promotion. Antibiotics are used too frequently and can, therefore, be readily found throughout surface waters around the globe, furthering the spread of antibiotic resistance. In Southeast Asia this seems to be even more of an issue due to weak enforcement or a total lack of regulation for antibiotic uses in humans, livestock or aquaculture.”


“Within my working group, it was obvious that the common aquaculture practice of broadcasting antibiotics into culture ponds, while possibly effective, probably was not an efficient use of these chemicals. This was due to many factors, including inadequate training of the farmers using the compounds, unnecessary spilling of the compounds during application, and in some instances, lack of knowledge about the actual compounds being used (labels in non-native languages or improper or imprecise labelling of package contents by counterfeit or generic manufacturers). This broad use of antibiotics in aquaculture will build resistance within individual operations but also releases compounds and antibiotic resistant genes downstream. One key to reducing aquaculture as a source of resistance is to educate aquaculturists so they make more efficient and targeted use of antibiotics. Second, improve and better enforce rules that dictate antibiotic product labelling and instructions. This should be done at the international scale within the region so that products contain multi-language labels, making it more likely that end users know what chemicals they are purchasing and how to properly treat their ponds. Last, treatment, even modest treatment, of discharged waters prior to release into surface waters using a wetland or vegetated buffer could reduce both the antibiotic compound levels and organisms with resistant genes prior to entering rivers and other environmental systems.”

A comment was expressed that time seemed to be in short supply and the sessions ended too soon, indicating participants were deeply engaged in the discussions. It was particularly insightful to have representatives from the different lower Mekong basin countries share their local experiences and practical difficulties in addressing these issues at the ground level. The fact that there were two formats for the two days of the workshop – first, a more open format for discussion during the breakout groups and second, a more intimate round table discussion on selected topics – appeared to be a good mix. The latter format was especially useful in soliciting greater feedback from the quieter or shy members of the workshop.

Various workshop publications are in preparation. The primary document will be a guidance manual on approaches to developing policies for better information collection and for implementing effective management practices in countries where people, technology and financial resources are in short supply. This will be supplemented by a summary and assessment of technology needs and opportunities for monitoring, with a focus on tools and techniques that can be deployed with little training and expertise while still providing useful data, even if detecting “hotspots” may warrant more in-depth assessments.

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