AMR Awareness Week: FAO’s biosecurity protocol can help create healthy farms with less antibiotic use

The three-zone biosecurity initiative by FAO was originally launched in 2013 to contain avian flu outbreaks

By Satya Sivaraman
Published: Monday 20 November 2023
Photo: iStock

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations has created a three-zone biosecurity protocol, which has the potential to be a crucial tool in combating antimicrobial resistance (AMR) resulting from the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. The initiative has helped egg farmers in Indonesia grow their income while reducing the need for antibiotics. 

The World Antimicrobial Resistance Awareness Week takes place from November 18-24 every year.

Read more: Antimicrobial resistance: India needs waste management, process control to prevent antibiotic pollution

Adopting the protocol was one of the best decisions taken by Ievan Purnateja, a medium-sized egg producer in the Indonesian province of Lampung, to help maintain very high hygiene standards on his farm. Purnateja now harvests healthy eggs regularly, which are in high demand among consumers. 

The FAO’s three-zone biosecurity initiative was originally launched in 2013 to contain an outbreak of the deadly avian flu. The avian flu pandemic killed hundreds of thousands of birds and led to millions of dollars in losses for farmers all over Southeast Asia.

The protocol aimed to  reduce infection on poultry farms by ensuring proper isolation, traffic control, cleaning and disinfection. Under the protocol, the livestock area on the farm gets divided into three zones, namely red or high risk, yellow or moderate risk and green or low risk. 

Vehicles and footwear from outside the farm are placed in the red zone. In the yellow zone, special footwear is used and farm workers must take a shower and wear protective clothing. When they enter the green zone, they are required to wear special footwear and sanitise their hands and feet before coming into contact with the birds.  

“People’s awareness about healthy food is very different from a couple of decades ago. They were ignorant in the past, but now they demand very high standards of hygiene in their food products,” Purnateja  said. 

Implementing the biosecurity protocol for his flock of over 80,000 chickens was worth it, said the egg farmer. “Though it required investment in new facilities and materials, given their benefits, the three-zone biosecurity measures are not that expensive after all,” he added. 

Improving hygiene practices using the FAO guidelines also helped Purnateja obtain a veterinary control number, also known as NKV certification, issued by the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture. The NKV certification is a stamp of food quality and safety and essential for accessing new, lucrative markets, including domestic supermarkets and export markets.

Since 2005, NKV certification has been mandatory for slaughterhouses and food distribution businesses in Indonesia.

The NKV certification ties in well with the FAO biosecurity initiative. Currently, poultry farms in 14 provinces are implementing the FAO protocol. The key to its popularity is the significant increase in profits for small and medium farmers, who often do not have  the facilities of large factory farms.

Read more: AMR Awareness Week: US FDA is too close to meat and drug industries when it comes to protecting public health

Indonesia’s poultry population has increased steadily in the last few decades. It supplies 65 per cent of all animal protein and employs 10 per cent of the national labour force. Production of poultry meat in Indonesia increased from 79,301 tonnes in 1972 to 3.89 million tonnes in 2021, growing at an average annual rate of 8.82 per cent.

While the FAO team provides the technical inputs, the investment in building the infrastructure required, obtaining protective equipment and other materials is borne by the farmers.

“We, in Indonesia, have been doing cost effectiveness studies and we found out that if you do three-zone biosecurity, there is a positive return on investment,”  says Luuk Schoonman, team leader of the FAO Emergency Centre for Transboundary Animal Diseases (FAO-ECTAD) , Indonesia.

An FAO study of broiler production, conducted over a two-year period, found seven  farms that adopted the three-zone biosecurity measures earned an additional $45 for every 1,000 birds. In the same period, the income in four control farms was reduced by $33 per 1,000 birds.

This unique partnership between FAO, government agencies, private industry and farmers also has a special public health benefit — a reduction in the use of antibiotics in the poultry industry. 

Read more: AMR Awareness Week: The link with climate change, water & why we need to incentivise measures against antimicrobial resistance

“Farmers who implement the three-zone biosecurity protocol have been able to reduce antimicrobial use” said Alfred Kompodu, technical officer, FAO, Indonesia.

A study by the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture in Semarang district, Central Java province in layer farms found a 42 per cent reduction in antimicrobial use in the FAO-assisted poultry farms. 

The study, looking into reducing antibiotic use in layer farms by implementing three-zone biosecurity, was based on data from two farms, each housing around 25,000 birds, with one implementing the three-zone biosecurity measures while the other did not. 

There are no formal estimates nationally, but AMR is thought to be high and on the rise in the country. Antimicrobial use is quite prevalent in the livestock production sector, especially poultry. 

In 2017, the Directorate General of Livestock and Animal Health Services and FAO-ECTAD conducted antimicrobial use surveys to gain insights on antibiotic use patterns in poultry production. The  survey found that most farmers (61 per cent) believed that antibiotics were a necessary component in the successful breeding of broilers. The majority (81.4 per cent) of poultry farmers still used antibiotics for prophylaxis, 30.2 per cent for medical treatment, and 0.3 per cent as growth promoters. 

Read more: AMR Awareness Week: How colistin went from ‘holy water’ in medicine to ‘sewage’ of resistance

According to Schoonman, the FAO three-zone biosecurity project in Indonesia could be a simple, but effective model for lowering the use of antibiotics in poultry farms. This is especially true when combined with food safety certifications such as NKV that attract farmers to adopt biosecurity measures voluntarily.

More research, with a larger sample size of birds and farms, is required to fully validate the link between the FAO protocol and lowered use of antimicrobials. With that done, the three-zone biosecurity model — which is low cost, easy to implement, increases production and reduces infection — can be replicated by poultry farmers, not just in Indonesia’s neighbourhood but in low- or middle-income countries across the globe. 

Satya Sivaraman is a communication advisor to ReAct Asia-Pacific, which is part of a global network of academic institutions and civil society groups working on antimicrobial resistance

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth

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