CRC to tackle antimicrobial resistance threat to Australia

Monday, 09 May, 2022

CRC to tackle antimicrobial resistance threat to Australia

The Australian Government has announced a $34.5 million grant for the newly established Cooperative Research Centre for Solving Antimicrobial Resistance in Agribusiness, Food and Environments (CRC SAAFE), formed to improve the resilience and profitability of Australia’s food and agribusiness industries.

Over the next decade, the new CRC will tackle resistance to essential antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals that, if not addressed, could wipe up to $283 billion from the Australian economy by 2050. The project involves a total of 70 partners contributing an additional $115 million cash and in-kind support.

Antimicrobials such as antibiotics, antifungals and antivirals are essential for managing disease in humans, animals and plants; however, their widespread use has led to microbes becoming resistant to them (antimicrobial resistance, or AMR). AMR can be spread through water, food, waste, animals and humans, and antimicrobial-resistant microbes can even cross national borders — posing a biosecurity risk and potentially threatening valuable export markets.

CRC SAAFE CEO Professor Erica Donner, Research Leader at the University of South Australia’s (UniSA) Future Industries Institute, said AMR needs to be tackled at its source, where it emerges and spreads between farms, in feed and food production systems, and in waste processing.

“Antimicrobials are used in so many ways,” Donner said. “They are used to treat our livestock, our crops and ourselves. They end up being flushed down toilets, sprayed in organic fertiliser, carried through water supplies, produce and stock feed. We need to do everything we can to stop the spread of resistance.”

Partners from the water, organic waste, aquaculture, horticulture, viticulture, animal feed and livestock sectors will work together to develop shared solutions to monitor, manage and mitigate the spread of AMR. New technologies deployed will include IoT sensors, genome sequencing, artificial intelligence and advanced analytics. CRC SAAFE partners will also develop solutions such as vaccines, water treatment technologies, and new animal feeds and supplements.

“Antimicrobial resistance makes our food supply less safe,” Donner said. “Internationally, there are many cases of multidrug resistant bacterial strains causing serious disease being spread via food. CRC SAAFE will help Australian industries stay on top of this risk, ensuring we remain a top producer of premium food and beverage products.”

AMR is also a significant problem in animal production, the wine sector and agricultural industries, costing producers hundreds of millions of dollars a year in lost production and failed crops. The World Bank has valued antimicrobial effectiveness at US$20–55 trillion, advising that action to mitigate antimicrobial resistance is one of the highest-yield development investments available to countries today.

“UniSA is thrilled to work with its CRC SAAFE partners over the next decade to advance this critical work,” Donner said. “By co-developing technologies and solutions to mitigate AMR, we will deliver benefits for all Australians.”

CRC SAAFE Chair Karlene Maywald said Australian industries need to be able to develop the knowledge to first manage the risks of AMR and then develop the technologies and the tools to mitigate them. “CRC SAAFE will ensure that Australia is at the leading edge of research to support industry to tackle the threat of AMR,” she said.

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