Edith Schippers, Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, kicks off the seminar with a video message.

By Guido Danen
Departments of Agriculture, and Health, Welfare and Sports
Royal Netherlands Embassy

The Netherlands Embassy organized a seminar at Ambassador Henne Schuwer’s residence April 13 to discuss ways to combat the mounting threat of antimicrobial resistance.

The seminar, jointly organized by the embassy’s departments of Agriculture and Health, Welfare and Sport, was well attended by US government officials, nonprofit organizations, think-tanks, academics, industry representatives, and branch organizations.

The idea for the seminar originated from bilateral meetings between the ministers for health in the Netherlands and the USA.

‘One Health Approach’

Edith Schippers, Dutch Minister of Health, Welfare and Sport, kicked off the seminar with a video message stressing the need to deal with antimicrobial resistance using a “One Health Approach,” or from the combined perspective of human healthcare, animal healthcare, food, and the environment.

Resistance to antibiotics can occur and spread through any of these domains and across borders, so attention must be paid to all, Minister Schippers stressed.

Ambassador Schuwer then opened the event by emphasizing the importance of international cooperation and collaboration on this crucial issue. Being the two largest agricultural exporters in the world, the Netherlands and the US would benefit from sharing their experience with one another, he said.

Ambassador Schuwer also introduced the moderator, Dr. Steve Solomon, who has more than 25 years of experience dealing with this issue working at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Unique about the seminar was Annechien ten Have, a Dutch pork producer, who came over from the Netherlands to share her experience reducing the use of antibiotics on her farm.

The Netherlands used to be one of the largest users of antibiotics in the agricultural sector in the European Union. However, due to the proactive attitude of farmers, in cooperation with the government, and with clear targets set by politicians, antibiotic use in agriculture has decreased more than 60 percent in the last five years.

Annechien, who runs a farm with 600 sows and 3,850 finishers, shared the story of how she has been able to reduce the use of antibiotics significantly while still maintaining the highest level of animal welfare without damaging her financial returns.

Her remarks were received with great interest from the US participants since large changes in the use of antibiotics in US agriculture will be implemented in 2017.

Cooperation and surveillance

The presentation by Dr. Christianne Bruschke, Chief Veterinary Officer of the Netherlands, also resonated with the audience, in particular with the antimicrobial resistance experts from the CDC.

Her talk described the process that occurred in the Netherlands to create the close cooperation between the Ministry of Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Health, Welfare and Sport that exists today. Dr. Bruschke also described how the Netherlands works to deal with this issue through public-private partnerships and showed evidence that the measures that were taken are leading to lower levels of resistance.

On the topic of surveillance, Dr. Marianne Donker, Dutch Deputy Director-General of Public Health, provided strong input for discussion by highlighting the need for harmonization of surveillance data and real-time surveillance systems.

While these are costly endeavors, they may be worth the investment to gain better insights, respond rapidly to outbreaks, and develop better strategies for dealing with antimicrobial resistance.

The interesting presentations from US speakers, such as Dr. Jean Patel and Dr. Lauri Hicks from the CDC, and following discussions during the several panels also showed that more cooperation would be mutually beneficial. Even though both countries are different in many ways, sharing experiences and practices with one another is necessary and of great value.

Dutch Health Counselor Regine Aalders and Dutch Agricultural Counselor Ton Akkerman, who hosted the seminar, conclude the meeting by announcing that more collaboration and sharing of knowledge will be pursued from both sides, particularly in the field of surveillance and stewardship.