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Industry and research join forces to tackle $283 billion antimicrobial resistance threat to Australia

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Article published on University of South Australia website on May 06, 2022

A new partnership to improve the resilience and profitability of Australia’s food and agribusiness industries has been kickstarted with a $34.5 million Federal Government grant announced today.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Solving Antimicrobial Resistance in Agribusiness, Food, and Environments (CRC SAAFE), involving 70 partners contributing an additional $115 million cash and in-kind support, is led by UniSA environmental scientist Professor Erica Donner.

Over the next decade the $149 million project 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.

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, rendering them ineffective, a phenomenon called antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Prof Donner, Research Leader in the University of South Australia’s Future Industries Institute, and CEO of CRC SAAFE, says 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. 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,” Prof Donner says.

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 develop solutions such as vaccines, water treatment technologies and  new animal feeds and supplements.

AMR can be spread through water, food, waste, animals and humans. Antimicrobial-resistant microbes can also cross-national borders, posing a biosecurity risk and potentially threatening valuable export markets.

Approximately five million people die each year from AMR-associated infections and that figure is expected to increase exponentially unless urgent action is taken.

The World Health Organisation has declared that AMR is one of the top 10 global public health threats facing humanity.

“Antimicrobial resistance makes our food supply less safe. 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,” Prof Donner says.

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. By co-developing technologies and solutions to mitigate AMR, we will deliver benefits for all Australians,” Prof Donner says.

CRC SAAFE Chair, Karlene Maywald, says 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,” Ms Maywald says.

The participating organisations are listed here:

Contact for interview:  

Professor Erica Donner, CEO of CRC SAAFE M: 0414 951 183 E:
Professor Marnie Hughes-Warrington, UniSA Deputy Vice Chancellor: Research and Enterprise

Media contact: Candy Gibson M: 0434 605 142 E: