Curbing farm use of antibiotics heats up again

Ontario Medical Association says incidence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is on the rise and must be stopped

The Ontario Medical Association is calling on government to impose sweeping restrictions on non-essential farm and other uses of medicines before bacterial resistance to life-saving antibiotics threatens human health.

Growing resistance to antibiotics endangers “one of the most fundamental and life-saving tools in medicine,” the association warns in a report entitled ‘When Antibiotics Stop Working.’

Infections “with antibiotic-resistant bacteria are becoming more frequent and difficult to treat, resulting in serious illness and even death,” the report states.

The report was released hours before livestock groups and veterinarians met with Health Canada to discuss a plan to prevent farmers from importing antibiotics. The government wants farmers to have permits for the products, which would have to be used under the supervision of a vet. The USDA is also moving to restrict the use of antibiotics in American farm production.

Drastic limits

This change would meet one of the association’s recommendations, but it also wants the Ontario government to impose drastic limits on farm use of antibiotic medicines.

In the past, the Canadian Medical Association has urged Health Canada and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to develop a comprehensive national strategy to combat antimicrobial resistance. It also has urged severe limits for the use of medically important antibiotics on farm livestock.

And last week, the British Medical Journal warned antibiotic resistance “has the potential to undermine modern health systems.” Experts fear an increase in resistant organisms coupled with a big fall in the number of new antimicrobial drugs “suggests an apocalyptic scenario may be looming,” the journal stated.

But critics paint antibiotic use in the livestock industry with too broad a brush, said Rob McNabb, general manager of operations with the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association.

Weaned off

The industry has worked hard to wean itself off medicines that are important to human health, he said.

“Farmers understand the need for prudent use of antibiotics,” he said. “We would support a better surveillance system to ensure unauthorized use of medicines.”

Other groups, including the Chicken Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Pork Council, take a similar stance.

“Hog producers take antimicrobial use and antimicrobial resistance very seriously,” the pork council said in a statement. “Producers follow CQA, an on-farm food safety program, which requires proper use of medications on farm. The CQA program requires producers to establish medication treatment plans with the assistance of the farm’s veterinarian, maintain treatment records, and consult with veterinarians regarding product selection and the proper use when it is necessary to treat an animal.”

Uncontrolled import

Veterinarians support ending the uncontrolled import and use of sub-therapeutical medicines as growth promoters in livestock production, said Dr. Warren Skippon, manager of national issues and animal welfare with the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

“We need to keep these important medicines for treating humans,” he said. “We need to preserve them for the future.”

The issue is complicated by the use of some antibiotics that are effective in treating similar diseases in animals and humans, he said.

The Ontario Medical Association also wants Ottawa to fund more research and educational campaigns focused on antibiotic resistance, and also strengthen surveillance of resistance patterns.

Existing antibiotics “are not as effective as they once were because bacteria are adapting to them,” the association’s report states.

Government needs to close “the loophole that allows farmers to feed these medications to their livestock without prescriptions simply to promote growth,” it states. As well, the Ontario government should “develop a system for farm industry surveillance to keep track of the identities and quantities of antibiotics being purchased, and those being moved into or out of Ontario.”

Prescription only

The association also wants the province to require a veterinary prescription and/or supervision of the use of all antibiotics on farms. The current practice allows for unsupervised, unscientific, and ultimately dangerous application of important medications, it says.

It also says amendments to Ontario’s Livestock Medicines Act must be made to close the “own use” loophole created by the Food and Drugs Act and its regulations, to ensure that large volumes of antibiotics cannot be freely imported into the province and be applied to animals en masse without surveillance or regulation.

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