Livestock producers must end antimicrobial growth promotants

The risk from antimicrobial-resistant organisms found in meat is statistically low, but of great potential consequence

If producers want to keep antibiotics in their tool boxes, they’re going to have to change the way they use them.

And that means voluntarily ending the use of antimicrobials as growth promotants, Leigh Rosengren told those attending the annual Manitoba Swine Seminar in Winnipeg.

“I promise you, if we see no change, this will be a big black strike across the industry,” said the Saskatchewan-based veterinarian and epidemiologist. “When we say we’re going to step up, and that we’re voluntarily going to clean something up, and then if we ultimately don’t change, I see the next step as regulation.”

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Regulation has already come to producers in the United States. There, pharmaceutical companies have voluntarily removed claims of growth promotion from their labels, while government regulations have made it illegal to use extra-label feed antimicrobials.

Pharmaceutical companies have also begun to remove claims of growth promotion from Canadian labels.

“They see the writing on the wall — that we don’t have a social licence to use these drugs in this way,” Rosengren said.

But unlike the United States, Canada has not made it illegal to use antimicrobials as off-label growth promotants. Here, the responsibility to ensure proper antimicrobial use rests with industry and farmers, pork producers were told.

“There is a fundamental difference in how this is going to play out in the United States versus in Canada,” she said. “And so, there is a lot of debate in Canada as to how much impact this will actually have on antimicrobial use.”

Government may step in

Canadian regulators often follow the lead of their American counterparts, she added, noting that without a voluntary decrease in antimicrobial use, further government action is likely.

“For the producers in the room, I would be encouraging you to be having this conversation with your feed mill and with your nutritionist and with your veterinarian about how your feed meds are going change.”

Producers also need to be having conversations with the public about antibiotics and antibiotic resistance

“There is certainly a food safety risk, it’s real,” she said. “Over 75 per cent of E. coli that comes off pork chops in Canada are resistant to tetracycline. Do we have a problem? Undoubtedly, yes.

“Where the rubber hits the road is when the doctor prescribes something, and it’s related to whatever was used on the farm, and the therapy that the doctor prescribes is ineffective because of that drug use on the farm. That is a real chain of events,” Rosengren said.

But she was quick to add that it’s also a chain of events that rarely reaches its conclusion. In some cases the risk of an adverse event stemming from resistant bacteria is as low as one in 85 million.

“When you’re talking to consumers, you want to… make sure they understand that the probability of this is very, very low,” said Rosengren. “But does that mean we shouldn’t be concerned? Well no, I don’t actually think so. Just because the risk is low it doesn’t mean it isn’t there.”

Understanding how the antibiotics you use work, why they’re needed, and what risks they can pose is all part of responsible stewardship, she stressed. A failure to take action and responsibility could mean the loss of these powerful medicines through both resistance and regulations.

“Open sharing about antibiotic use will ensure we are good stewards and build engagement with regulators in managing this societal resource,” Rosengren said.

About the author

Reporter

Shannon VanRaes is a journalist and photojournalist at the Manitoba Co-operator. She also writes a weekly urban affairs column for Metro Winnipeg, and has previously reported for the Winnipeg Sun, Outwords Magazine and the Portage Daily Graphic.

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