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Communicating agriculture antimicrobial resistance: Critical to public health, unclear how to do it

Title: Science communication challenges about antimicrobial resistance in animal agriculture: insights from stakeholders

Author(s) and Year: Andy J King, Dara M Wald, Denise D Coberley, Michael F Dahlstrom, Paul J Plummer, 2022

​TL;DR: Communicating with the public about antimicrobial resistance and stewardship of antimicrobials in animal agriculture is undoubtedly important, but the authors argue that more research is needed to determine if the same strategies of effective science communications can be applied to communicating about the threats and mitigations of antimicrobial resistance.

Why I chose this paper: I’m interested in applying science communication to public health sectors that involve both people and animals. I was surprised to find that there is so little known about effective science communication strategies on communication about antimicrobial resistance in animals.

Declared by the WHO as one of the top 10 global public health threats and costing the US more than $4.6 billion annually, the CDC reports antimicrobial resistance (AMR) accounts for 2.8 millions infections a year in America. We may assume that such heavy antimicrobial treatments are primarily prescribed to people with infections, but in fact, antimicrobials are also widely used in animal agriculture.

Stakeholders in animal agriculture must responsibly administer antimicrobials to minimize the risk of AMR, requiring great technical knowledge. They face many challenges when communicating about AMR and AMR stewardship to various target audiences such as the general public and policy makers. Previous research on communicating the public health threats of AMR have focused largely on addressing the AMR threat posed to human health from drug resistant infections in people. However, such studies have not thoroughly considered how to address communicating AMR threats generated from animal agriculture. This study focuses on how to address the challenges of communicating AMR threats from animal agriculture.

The Survey

King and coauthors collected information from animal agricultural stakeholders at a science communication workshop to identify their obstacles and goals of communicating about AMR and AMR stewardship. The workshop was part of a national antibiotic symposium held by the National Institute of Animal Agriculture. The 80 workshop participants consisted of veterinarians, industry members, farmers, government workers, and academics or researchers. The participants responded to questions about the AMR communication, such as their target audiences, previous AMR communication challenges and their causes, along with strategies to improve future AMR communication. After answering the prompts, the participants discussed their answers in small groups. The researchers summarized the results from individually written responses and group discussions in Table 1.

​Stakeholder group

Why AMR communication is important to your job

With which audiences do you want to improve AMR communication?

Challenging communication situations around AMR

Perceived cause of AMR communication challenges

Beliefs about improving future AMR and AMS communication


• Clarify public and client misperceptions about the complexities of antimicrobial use • Vets are gatekeepers of antibiotics and viewed as thought leaders

  • Consumers/public

  • Producers/farmers

  • Students

  • Policy influencers (i.e. advocacy groups and politicians)

  • Uncertain knowledge of audience (e.g. maybe nothing or skewed by experience)

  • Fighting misperceptions about current policies and antibiotic use

  • Ineffective delivery of complex and nuanced information

  • Emotional reactions and impatience (by communicator or receiver)

  • Stories, examples, and analogies

  • Accurate non-technical information

  • Active listening first, then information presentation


• Consumer confidence (e.g. share knowledge about food safety and supply chain) • Influence policy to avoid additional regulation on use

  • Consumers/public (includes meat buyers)

  • Producers

  • Regulatory agencies

  • Lack of knowledge about production, food supply chain, and labelling

  • Communicating with groups believed to have existing agendas or that focus more on emotions than facts

  • Lack of available consumer-friendly language to talk about AMR complexities

  • Myths and media misrepresentation of industry and practices (includes social media)

  • Positive stories about industry practices (e.g. focused on safe food supply)

  • Disseminate accurate information and misinformation corrections

  • Find common ground with public

Producer/ farmer

• Defend ability to protect animal welfare (e.g. to government officials) • Educate consumers for marketability

  • Consumers/public

  • Those involved with policy and regulation (media, politicians, regulators, etc.)

  • Consumer misunderstanding about antibiotic use and labelling

  • Unfamiliarity with animal agriculture (e.g. how and why antibiotics are used)

  • Hostility about animal agriculture practices from some consumers and advocacy groups

  • Lack of consumer knowledge

  • Improve consumer education about animal agriculture

  • Use ‘more facts’ and reputable sources

  • Appeal to animal welfare implications through storytelling


t • Public perceptions can drive legislation and regulation (helpful and unhelpful) • Important for biosecurity, as well as animal and human health • Educating producers

  • Consumers/public (‘non-scientists’ and voters)

  • Producers/industry groups

  • Legislators and other government agencies

  • Technical details (residue versus resistance; antibiotics needed for animal welfare)

  • Focusing on takeaway messages and not process for some audiences

  • Difficult to quantify return on investment on AMR prevention efforts

  • Misunderstanding of the science of AMR

  • Inconsistent messaging across stakeholder groups

  • Lack of audience trust

  • Stakeholders contest claims of expertise

  • More explanation from trusted sources

  • Appeal to audience values and emotions

  • Focus on opportunities to interact with audiences and find common ground

Academic/ research

  • Obligation to promote stewardship to stakeholders

  • Need to reach multiple sectors with AMR-relevant information

  • Consumers/public

  • Students/youths

  • Producers/farmers

  • Extension educators

  • Regulatory agencies

  • Politicians

  • Creating messages that resonate

  • Having interactions with people across sectors (including human health)

  • Discussing regulations with producers

  • Different knowledge bases for a complex topic

  • Focusing on precision instead of clarity

  • Lack of rapport and different values

  • Be precise and accurate, and focus on education

  • Ask questions (and listen) to determine what to talk about

  • Use storytelling

Goals and target audience

The participant groups varied the most in their motivation for communicating about AMR, with reasons ranging from influencing policy, enhancing animal welfare, educating consumers and the public, improving animal and human health, to promoting antimicrobial stewardship. Participants were also concerned about consumer misinformation about antibiotics in animal agriculture. Most participants identified the public and consumers as their target audience for improving AMR communication. Many stakeholder groups also identified policy makers as a target audience.

Communication challenges

All stakeholder groups recognize that there are many obstacles to communicating AMR effectively with their target audiences. The workshop participants identified that ignorance and unfamiliarity with animal agriculture practices as the largest AMR communication challenges, and attributed inconsistent messaging and arcane AMR policies management as causes for these AMR communication challenges. Workshop participants also noted that media messaging could lead to misperceptions and that messaging often prioritizes accuracy at the cost of clarity and conciseness.

How to overcome these challenges

Workshop participants reported two main approaches for improving AMR communication. Some participants championed storytelling to promote shared values as an effective method for overcoming AMR communication challenges, a strategy many science communicators have shown to be effective. However, other workshop participants believed that sharing information alone about AMR is an effective strategy for improving AMR communication. Such a knowledge gap filling method has been reported to be ineffective in science communication.

The Impact

King and co-authors conclude that there are a variety of communication priorities held by the distinct animal agriculture stakeholder groups. Due to this diversity in communication concerns and target audiences, the authors suggest that AMR communication training may require involving specific communication strategies aimed at various stakeholder groups to deeply impact their respective target audiences.

Interestingly, although stakeholders in animal agriculture are aware of the challenges of communicating about AMR, there are disagreements over how to best address these AMR communication challenges. Consistent with methods advocated by science communicators, some workshop participants believed sharing analogies and values were the most effective methods for overcoming challenges to AMR communication. However, other workshop participants believe that sharing information alone would overcome these challenges, a method considered unproductive by science communicators. These findings on the communication strategies held by the workshop participants reveal the need for science communicators to train animal agriculture stakeholders in effective communication methods.

The authors conclude that effective AMR communication is necessary for establishing consistent antimicrobial stewardship and can ultimately have huge impacts on animal and human health. Yet, there is a dearth of research investigating the best methods for communicating about AMR and responsible use of antimicrobials in agriculture. This study could be the start.

Edited by Niveen AbiGhannam

Cover image credit: cottonbro studio via Pexels



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