EDMONTON – The federal government is proposing new rules for veterinary drugs used in livestock as it works to reduce human health risks associated with resistance to antibiotics and other antimicrobials.
Health Canada says the decreasing effectiveness of antimicrobials is having a significant impact on the government’s ability to protect Canadians from infectious diseases.
“The overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in animals is a contributing factor to the development and spread of AMR (antimicrobial-resistance),” reads a summary of the proposed rules.
“The development of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens in animals can pose serious risks to human health when they are transmitted as food-borne or water-borne contaminants. Antimicrobial-resistant infections are associated with a greater risk of death, more complex illnesses, longer hospital stays and higher treatment costs.”
The department says current regulations do not provide the necessary regulatory oversight to mitigate the risk.
The proposed changes would restrict the importation of some veterinary drugs used in livestock, require drug manufacturers to follow stricter rules regarding the quality of active ingredients and allow for increased monitoring of drug sales.
The department is seeking feedback on the proposals until Sept. 8.
Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, a veterinarian who advises the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, said the changes are overdue.
She said there are rumours that some producers have imported antimicrobials for use on their animals, but it doesn’t appear to be a widespread problem.
“The industry actually wants some of these regulations to protect us from the bad apples,” she said from her practice in Picture Butte in the heart of Alberta’s feedlot sector. “It is not in our best interest to not use drugs prudently.”
The Canadian Meat Council, which represents federally registered meat packers, said it is reviewing the proposed changes with its member companies.
Ron Davidson, a council spokesman, said the industry is pleased the amendments deal with the use of unapproved livestock drugs, which can leave residues in food.
The Canadian Pork Council, Turkey Farmers of Canada and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association also said they are reviewing the proposed changes.
“Canadian Pork Council believes the use of antibiotics is an important tool for the welfare of the animal and herd management,” said spokesman Gary Story. “Our goal is to produce safe food while reducing the need for antibiotics.”
Health Canada said it is also working to phase out growth promotion claims on antimicrobial drugs used in food animal production by the fall of 2017.
Department spokeswoman Rebecca Gilman said the government does not plan to ban antimicrobials in animal feed.
“In some instances, antibiotics are administered in feed for both the treatment and prevention of diseases,” she said.
“There is no plan to phase out this use as it remains important for food-producing animals — to still have access to antibiotic therapy.”
The government says more than 75 per cent of antimicrobials sold in Canada are for use in animals, mainly to promote growth or to guard against disease and infection. About 1.6 million kilograms of antimicrobials were distributed for use in animals in 2013.
Health Canada says the proposed changes will align Canada with policies in the United States and the European Union.