Katrin Schneeberger, how would you sum up your first year in office?
The FOEN is a substantial department covering an extensive range of subjects. Climate change, the loss of biodiversity and the circular economy – to name just a few – are the big issues facing society. Our political dealings are correspondingly varied. But the FOEN is also a specialist authority and, as such, is responsible for recording accurate environmental data on trends over time – data that then forms the basis for drawing up key policies. This fundamental work and the preparation of the political transactions go hand in hand and must be coordinated.
How important is the StAR strategy for you and for the Office? How do you relate to it?
Antibiotic resistance is a threat to people and animals and therefore a problem that we really need to get to grips with. The environment is a reservoir for antibiotic resistance, both in its naturally occurring and human-induced forms. Wastewater treatment already eliminates 99% of antibiotic-resistant germs. The new fourth stage of purification for eliminating trace substances will remove almost all antibiotics from wastewater. As a result, even fewer antibiotics will enter our waters, reducing the risk of the development of antibiotic resistance.
Not enough attention has been paid to the issue of soil to date – we need to know more about soil pollution and antibiotic resistance, particularly in connection with pig or veal farming. We need to do much better in this area over the next few years.
How has COVID-19 affected your work?
There are the long phases of working from home, but also particularly my appointment under the exceptional corona conditions: I have not yet been able to meet many of my staff in person. Meetings have taken place almost exclusively online, as have my first presentations and panel discussions as FOEN Director. Nor have I managed to make any site visits in recent months. I look forward to putting in such personal appearances and holding meetings in person again without restrictions.
To what extent might COVID-19 represent an opportunity in the fight against antibiotic resistance?
I think that, for many of us, COVID-19 has heightened our awareness of our own vulnerability. We are not used to being confronted with a new disease that spreads across the globe and forces us to develop corresponding medicines and treatments. This enhanced awareness can help us tackle the problem of antibiotic resistance.
The fight against COVID-19 and against antibiotic resistance also highlights the importance of the One Health strategy, which aims to improve human and animal health in an intact environment.
What I would especially welcome would be a growing understanding among the public of the need for scientific work as a result of the reporting on COVID-19. That would be particularly helpful for our work on environmental issues.