Aquaculture is the fastest growing food producing industry in the world . It has been subjected to an intensification by an increasing proportion of global farmers
. Especially fed aquaculture has seen a rapid increase and is only expected to grow further
. This intensification has led to a higher exposure for the animals to disease outbreaks and subsequently to antibiotic treatments
. In turn, this has led to an increasing problem with antimicrobial resistant bacteria (AMR), which quickly has become one of the most pressing public health issues of our time
(Léger et al., 2021, Choi et al., 2020)
. The amount of antibiotics used for aquaculture is expected to increase with 33 percent by 2030
. With the open nature of most aquaculture production, residues of antibiotic treatments spread into the surrounding waterbody and are very difficult to control
(Choi et al., 2020, Bondad-Reantaso et al., 2023)
. As a result, it affects wildlife, plants, drinking water and subsequently people, making AMR in aquaculture a truly multi-faceted issue. The interconnectedness between public health and animal welfare is at the core of the One Health Approach which aims to design programs, policies , research and legislations to achieve better public health outcomes
. In this paper we look at the role aquaculture has had in AMR strategies on an international scale up until this point . Furthermore, we analyze whether regulations for antibiotic use in 17 of the largest aquaculture- producing countries match the recommendations set up by the One Health approach by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) . Finally, we compare how two leading aquaculture certification schemes, namely Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) & Best Aquaculture Practice (BAP) work towards limiting the use of antibiotics in aquaculture operations. To retrieve this information, this paper answered the following research questions:
1. How has the presence of AMR been translated into international steering documents and how does it relate to aquaculture?
2. How do the antibiotic regulations in 17 of the largest aquaculture-producing countries/regions compare to these recommendations as defined by the WHO and two leading aquaculture certification programs?
Materials and Method
The findings of the study are based on national regulations, gray literature and international standards and recommendations as well as the standards for best practice set up by the certification schemes. We limited the amount of countries studied to 17 due to document availability as well as production volumes in the observed countries.
For the first research question, w e used policy mapping, which is a type of content analysis that is used to make objective and replicable inferences from texts or other forms of communications in this particular context
(Krippendorff, 2013, Bengtsson, 2016)
. More precisely, looking at how the presence of AMR has developed in international commitments over time and how aquaculture has been included. For the second research question we used elements of a comparative case study, where we analyzed and synthesized similarities and differences across multiple cases
Results & Discussion
Our results indicate that aquaculture was not included in international steering documents to combat the spreading of AMR until the One Health approach was adopted in 2015 and even now it is not explicitly mentioned but is incorporated in a general animal husbandry consideration . Furthermore, w e found that all but three countries allow antibiotics listed as “highest priority” by the WHO in their aquaculture operations. The certification programs have even more stringent standards for the use of antibiotics, banning all antibiotics listed as critical for human health and limiting the number of treatments to maximum three (depending on the species). Other important findings were that nine out of the 17 countries allowed prophylactic use of antibiotics in aquaculture practices and that neither state had a limit to the number of treatments per production cycle. As a result, states still have a long way to go in order to perform according to international recommendations and should start to prioritize this issue in their policies, regulations and strategies for aquaculture production. We argue that a higher emphasis should be put on animal welfare as a means to limiting the use of antibiotics .