Pesticides used in crops might link to increased antimicrobial resistance in the food chain

The use of bactericides, fungicides, and other pesticides in plant agriculture is potentially associated with the emerging issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR), according to a recently published paper review on Agriculture, an online international scientific journal.  

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of microorganisms to resist antimicrobial treatments. It happens when these microbes are exposed to antimicrobial drugs, i.e. antibiotics, over time. AMR is a natural process yet has been accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antimicrobials in the past two decades, becoming a significant global challenge nowadays. It makes treatments ineffective, posing a serious risk to public health, and consequently causes a great economic burden. If left uncontrolled, by 2050, infections by AMR pathogens may lead to approximately 10 million deaths annually worldwide and costs at least 100 trillion USD to the world’s economy.  

Bactericides, fungicides, and other pesticides used in plant agriculture can result in residues on plants and in the environment, which potentially leads to adverse impacts. For example, studies have shown the correlation between streptomycin, oxytetracycline, copper-based products, and some fungicides used with increased resistance among plant pathogens to these agents. Plants carrying antimicrobial-resistant microbes have been responsible for several foodborne diseases. Namely, aspergillosis in humans as a result of triazole fungicide-resistant Aspergillus fumigatus has raised particular concerns in Europe.  

The published paper employs the One Health approach to review evidence relating to the association between the use of antimicrobials in plant agriculture and AMR organism in food and the environment. One Health is a holistic approach that addresses the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment as being interconnected.  

The evidence reviewed shows that genes can be exchanged horizontally among various bacteria in the plant production environment, such as phytopathogens, soil bacteria, and zoonotic bacteria that are occasionally present in that environment and the food chain. Through mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer, co-resistance, cross-resistance, and gene up-regulation, resistance to one compound may confer resistance and multi-drug resistance to other similar, or even very dissimilar, compounds. The paper highlights the need for further studies and research to assess the risk of AMR concerning pesticides used in crops, as a comprehensive effort to minimize the development and transition of AMR organisms.