For several decades, public health officials in Canada have been calling for a ban on antibiotic use in livestock for growth promotion, due to its severe threats to public health. Fortunately, this call finally appears to have been answered.

Recently, Health Canada announced legislation for the animal drug industry that would significantly reduce antibiotic use in Canadian livestock.

Overview:

  • 80% of the world’s antibiotics are used in agriculture.
  • To date, there has been no national control of antibiotic use in Canadian agriculture.
  • Health Canada announced in 2014 they are moving towards eliminating antibiotics for growth promotion purposes, as the oversaturation of antibiotics in agriculture is leading to superbugs that endanger livestock and humans alike.

Background:

The use of antibiotics in agriculture has been largely debated for decades, and as the animal drug industry grows, so does the concern over antimicrobial resistance. Seeing antimicrobial resistance as a cause for national intervention, Health Canada announced that antibiotics are to be phased out by 2017. The primary goal of the legislation is to protect Canadians from health risks associated with antimicrobial resistance; a goal that is being accomplished through surveillance, stewardship and innovation.

In partnership with the Public Health Agency of Canada, surveillance of antimicrobial resistance is being strengthened and heavily focused upon. Additionally, the government has created the Canadian Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance System (CARSS) to intensify the focus on the connection between antibiotics in agricultural practices and the effects on humans.

The announcement by Health Canada raises several important questions that the nation is struggling to provide answers for. Most importantly is the concern about Canada staying competitive in the global market. Alternative practices for growth and health promotion must be found quickly if Canada wishes to continue their involvement in the exportation of livestock and animal by-products.

Additionally, public health advocates are concerned about industry members adhering to these new limitations. Loopholes to avoid new limitations around growth promotion are already underway as drug manufactures agree to simply remove the claims of growth promotion from antibiotics. In contrast, industry experts are arguing for the necessity of antibiotics in the industry. Without antibiotics, there would be no way to keep livestock safe from infection and disease, a concern that has the potential to be a serious animal welfare issue.

Looking Ahead:

Health Canada must move quickly to phase out the use of antibiotics in livestock, and to look at introducing regulation that would allow viable alternatives to enter the market to ensure animal welfare and a continued robust livestock industry.