Responsible farming

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When discussing agrifood supply chains, our main focus is the interlink between the farmer, the food processor and the food consumer. The supply chain itself has handicapped the ability of the Philippines to guarantee food security and increase its agricultural products’ competitiveness at an international level. Farm-to-market infrastructure, including roads and logistics services, are an important hindrance to the supply chain. It is estimated that 20 percent to 50 percent of fresh goods are damaged during the journey from market to consumer (postharvest losses are estimated at 30 percent, compared to just 6 percent in Thailand). Additionally, the lack of a support framework, such as effective cooperatives, to ensure that farmers are able to access the market at competitive prices, has meant that they are vulnerable to middlemen.  And I fully agree with Ernie Ordoñez, who mentioned in his column the other day: Extension work is key to agriculture success.

One aspect when discussing the agrifood supply chains is unfortunately not high on the Philippine agenda: the use of excessive antibiotics in farming. We are aware that antibiotics are used in animal husbandry, poultry farming and aquaculture in the Philippines and many countries around the world, including the US. The US Food and Drug Administration has estimated 80 percent of all antibiotics sold in the US are used on animals.

While antibiotics are used to ensure better health and survival of animals bred for food, little concern has been raised so far  about what that does to the food consumer.

A British government report estimates that about 700,000 people worldwide currently die annually due to antibiotic-resistant infections. If current trends continue, this mortality rate will rise to 10 million yearly by mid-century. And how is the situation in the Philippines? In one of my last visits to the Department of Health (DOH), I saw a big sign: 80 percent of Filipinos are antibiotic resistant! The lack of effective national surveillance and supervision of antibiotic use in animal products masks the severity of the threat.


Here is a good example that things can be changed: to meet increasing demand for meat raised without certain antibiotics, top US chicken company Tyson Foods Inc. and rival producers are turning to sanitizing wipes, bacteria-reducing fog and even oregano to keep birds healthy. Yum Brands Inc.’s KFC became the last of the big three US chicken restaurants to move away from antibiotics important to human medicine. McDonald’s Corp. and privately held Chick-fil-A had already made similar commitments earlier.

Tyson, one of KFC’s suppliers, set a goal in April 2015 to eliminate the use of human antibiotics from its broiler flocks, or those raised for meat, by the end of September 2017. More than 90 percent of broiler chickens in its supply chain were raised without antibiotics also used by humans in its fiscal year 2016. The company also plans to switch its retail line of Tyson-branded chicken products to birds raised without any antibiotics.

Given the fact that 80 percent of Filipinos are antibiotic-resistant, this problem also needs to be addressed in the Philippines, both in terms of supervising the raising of chickens and hogs. This definitely part forms of responsible farming that the Department of Agriculture and its agencies should promote and control.

At the same time, the DOH and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have to provide information to patients who are buying antibiotics that they have to use antibiotics for a number of prescribed days. We have to get away from the habit of halting the use of antibiotics as soon as the first sign of health improvement becomes visible. As we do not get complete packages with written information on application and side effects of medicines at pharmacies, patients are short-changed and endangered. Again, this is something the DOH and the FDA should look into.

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