Although activity on any formal policy proposals related to the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals is not expected during the Trump Administration, recent developments indicate that the issue arena will remain very active, especially on the international stage. Recently, a Codex Ad Hoc Intergovernmental Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance released draft documents that would revise the Codex Code of Practice to Minimize and Contain Antimicrobial Resistance and develop a Guidance on Integrated Surveillance of Antimicrobial Resistance.

As part of its effort to develop science-based guidance on the management of food-borne antimicrobial resistance, the Codex Alimentarius Commission reactivated this task force in 2016 in order to assist governments in the design and implementation of monitoring and surveillance programs for food-borne antimicrobial resistance. The task force was given the additional task of reviewing and revising as appropriate the code of practice to address the entire food chain.

The task force is currently taking comments on these draft documents from Member delegations. US stakeholder groups are encouraged to provide comments, which can be submitted to the US Codex Office by August 15. To stimulate the development of innovative new antibiotics in the battle against the threat of drug-resistant bacteria, the Pew Charitable Trusts this week announced that it will create a digital platform allowing researchers to share data, ideas and insights. Described as a dynamic, cloud-based resource, this new Shared Platform for Antibiotic Research and Knowledge (SPARK), according to Pew, will integrate research data with analysis by experts, and provide an opportunity for real-time collaboration among scientists across the stakeholder spectrum.

In its announcement, Pew explained that despite a long history of antibiotic research, scientists experience difficulty in building upon past research findings, which are scattered across the academic literature or not publicly available. While SPARK data will initially be curated from publicly available resources, Pew added that the platform also will have the capability to host and harmonize previously unpublished data and prospective research findings from studies still in progress.

Pew’s announcement also revealed that, in its pilot phase, SPARK will focus on data relevant to the unique challenges of finding and designing antibiotics that can defeat the most dangerous and hardest-to-treat superbugs. A recent report by three major EU public health agencies purportedly confirms the link between antibiotic consumption and antibiotic resistance in humans and food-producing animals. In addition to confirming the link, the European Food Safety Authority, the European Medicines Agency, and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control noted in its Joint Interagency Antimicrobial Consumption and Resistance Analysis that the report reflects improved surveillance across Europe.

Overall antibiotic use is higher in food-producing animals than in humans, but the situation varies across countries and according to the antibiotics, according to the report. In response, the three agencies recommended additional research aimed at better understanding how the use of antibiotics and resistance affect one another. It is unlikely that any policy proposals related to antibiotic resistance will advance any time soon, aside from politically benign research initiatives. Proposals such as a petition submitted to USDA by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that would declare antibiotic resistant strains of Salmonella as an adulterant will continue to languish.

However, these recent developments demonstrate that the issue arena itself will remain very active and that critical discussions on potential public policy solutions will continue.