For John Prescott, a move to end farmers’ right to import certain veterinary drugs marks a significant turning point in the fight against antimicrobial resistance in Canada.
The Public Health Agency announced last year that Health Canada’s Veterinary Drugs Directorate would introduce new regulations requiring veterinary oversight of antibiotics used in food animals, such as those administered in water and feed.
Health Canada is now asking for industry input on the proposed changes, including tougher rules around the quality of active ingredients, increased monitoring of drug sales and restrictions on the importation of some veterinary drugs.
“I think this is a historic process, it is dramatic,” said Prescott, co-chair of the Ad Hoc Committee for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Canadian Agriculture and Veterinary Medicine. “It will reduce the use of antibiotics to when the benefits are really clear and substantial.”
In a summary of the proposed changes, the federal department states that “the overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in animals is a contributing factor to the development and spread of AMR (anti-microbial resistance).”
Prescott agrees. He was one of the many experts gathered in Niagara Falls last week for a Canadian Veterinary Medical Association summit where antimicrobial resistance was a key concern. But while 80 per cent of all antimicrobials used are used in animal agriculture, the professor emeritus of veterinary bacteriology cautioned that the situation should be keep in perspective.
“That sounds like a huge number, but you have to realize there are a lot more animals than humans in Canada,” he said, adding that the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance has done an excellent job of tracking resistance in Canada, often being the first to identify newly resistant bacterial strains.
Prescott would still like to see more done in terms of data collection and monitoring.
“What we’d really like to see is use data on a farm basis and on a veterinarian basis… how well does farm X compare to farm Y, and if farm X or one particularly veterinarian seems way out of line… it would be very valuable to then tap them on the shoulder and say ‘look, you are out of line here, what’s going on?’” he said.
“If we can track use, we can track resistance because the two are so linked together, if you use more antibiotics you will get more resistance. If you use less you will get less.”
No one at the summit was surprised by the new regulations proposed by Health Canada, which have been in development for several years.
“There is 100 per cent support for the regulatory changes, there is definitely concern with how are these changes going to be implemented and kind of the details around that, but in general the CVMA has been consulting with Health Canada for the last number of years and we do support these regulatory changes,” said the association’s president-elect, Troy Bourque.
Prescott noted the details of the proposed changes must still be finalized and that things feel “a bit chaotic” as industry and government come together to reduce antimicrobial resistance. But he stressed that even if benchmarking and antimicrobial use data still need to be worked on, changes to importation and oversight of ingredients marks a monumental change.
“The whole area is sort of in a ferment at the moment,” he said.
Rob McNabb, general manager of the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association said, “it is very clear that food animal producers and veterinarians must work together to ensure the prudent use of antimicrobials.”
The association will respond to the Health Canada proposal in the coming weeks, but McNabb said, as they stand, the impact on production practices will be minimal.
“The most direct impact to our industry would be the changes or new restriction on own-use import, and we’ve been recommending that they they create a list of products, which they are now proposing to do,” he said. “They aren’t eliminating it all together, but they do need to have some controls in place.”
He expects that consultations with Health Canada will continue as regulatory changes move forward. The updated regulations are expected to come into effect in late 2017.