Robots to research into AMR in livestock

Friday, 06 October, 2017

The Australian Government is supporting research into the use of robots in antimicrobial resistance (AMR) on pig and chicken farms.

With the Australian chicken meat industry achieving an export value of $47 million and the pig meat industry $128 million for the 2015–2016 financial year, Australia aims to position itself as a world leader in the fight against superbugs. The Coalition government has proven this by providing financial backing of $1.3 million to Australian Pork Limited under Round 3 of the Rural Research and Development (R&D) for Profit program.

AMR is a “major health issue worldwide” according to Barnaby Joyce, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources, and the World Health Organisation has described it as a looming crisis in which treatable infections are becoming life-threatening. A more thorough testing of livestock is therefore necessary to prevent superbugs and raise awareness of those that are resistant to antibiotics.

“Using laboratory robots that can work quickly, precisely and cost-effectively, the project will develop an industry-wide approach to gather information to help farmers demonstrate their low AMR risk status, giving them a competitive advantage in the international marketplace," Joyce explained. “Specialised robots will be used to isolate, count and characterise large numbers of bacteria from animal faeces.”

She suggested this aims to boost Australia’s trade reputation by demonstrating that Australian farm produce has a low antimicrobial resistance status.

“The robots will be used to identify and grow thousands of individual bacteria to determine the presence and distribution of antimicrobial resistance at both the herd and national level.

“The project will help monitor on-farm control measures to reduce the presence of antimicrobial-resistant organisms across pork and chicken meat industries, with the potential for the project to be used as a model in other animal sectors and for ongoing surveillance,” said Joyce.

Australian Pork Limited CEO Andrew Spencer welcomed the Australian Government’s support for this project. The $180.5 million R&D for Profit program delivers on the Coalition government’s commitment to increase R&D funding for practical projects to increase farmgate returns and capture global market opportunities.

While there is limited overlap in antimicrobials between human and animal products, the focus on AMR in livestock ensures there is no potential harm to humans or animals.

“The outcome of this project will enable industry to provide hard evidence to back claims and to show leadership credentials, which in an AMR aversive world will be an important point of differentiation,” Joyce said.

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