Tackling Antimicrobial Resistance for Food Safety

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  • 2017/10/17     Vienna, Austria

    Image: 10th Micropol & Ecohazard Conference, Vienna

    Superbugs – or antibiotic-resistant bacteria – develop in wastewater and could end up in our food. The effects of these micro-pollutants in the water environment, however, are complex and are still not fully understood.

    At the workshop “From Black to Blue: (Waste)water Reuse Challenges for a Blue Circle Society”, UNU-FLORES researcher Dr Serena Caucci discussed wastewater use in agriculture and addressed the topic of micro-pollutants in water effluents. In order to ensure that the water that goes into irrigating our food crops is of decent quality, we need to tackle the topic of antimicrobial resistance.

    The workshop took place on Young Water Professionals’ Day (YWP-Day) of the IWA Micropol & Ecohazard Conference (17–20 September 2017) in Vienna. The conference gathered leading experts and practitioners in the field of wastewater, drinking water, and reuse from all over the world to share the latest scientific developments, technical expertise on research and solutions in micro-pollutants monitoring, treatment, and management, and to foster international cooperation.

    Image: 10th Micropol & Ecohazard Conference, Vienna

    Caucci in particular talked about the impact of micro-pollutants on wastewater use practices with respect to waterways and food chains. She advocated for advancing monitoring strategies and standardised protocols to assess the status of antibiotic resistance in wastewater-receiving environments (soil, surface, and groundwater) and produce. In her presentation, Caucci raised the issue of defining qualitative risk assessment criteria for monitoring the impact of antibacterial resistance and organic micro-pollutants during wastewater reuse in agriculture.

    World Food Day

    The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations marks World Food Day (16 October) among other objectives to draw attention to achievements in food and agricultural development. FAO’s work around antimicrobial resistance, for example, the Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance (2016–2020) supports the food and agriculture sectors to minimise the impact of antimicrobial resistance.

    Caucci joined about 150 researchers and industry-based innovators on YWP-Day who presented their scientific work in front of a critical audience, exchanging knowledge with experts in the field of micro-pollutants and discussing hot topics in a roundtable setting.

    The session was organised within the frame of NEREUS COST Action, a programme established to focus on new and emerging challenges and opportunities in wastewater use, which UNU-FLORES contributes to. The workshop inspired discussions on plant contaminant uptake, monitoring strategies to quantify the presence of antimicrobial resistance, and criteria to define risk assessment of micro-pollutants.

    Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture

    Much of wastewater use in agriculture is not based on any scientific criteria ensuring that it is safe. A sound understanding of the opportunities and potential risks of wastewater use is needed.

    Compiling existing cases across different continents, UNU-FLORES’s book Safe Use of Wastewater in Agriculture: Good Practice Examples (2016) provides a good starting point.

    Other issues that also frequently came up were how to integrate science into policy and how monitoring can help to assess risk of pollution by micro-contaminants in food chains, soil, and freshwater. On this topic, criteria that should be taken into account when striving to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 6 were also of interest. A pertinent question remained unanswered: to which extent should the monitoring of antibiotic resistance play a role when assessing wastewater and water quality?

    Advancing the cause further, Caucci also participated at the NEREUS COST Action Working Group 5 meeting focusing on risk assessment and policy development.