Regulators and industry have insisted for years that the prudent
use of antibiotics in agriculture poses no human health risk. Used
properly and following withdrawal periods, they argue that there
are no drug residues at the time of slaughter. They say that there
is still no clear scientific evidence that the antibiotics used in
livestock production contribute to the growing public health
problem of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans. But the recent
call by the Ontario Medical Association for an immediate ban on the
use of antibiotics to promote animal growth, and reports of strong
regulatory action being taken by several other countries, has
consumers wondering. And, if there's no problem, consumers ask,
why are we seeing the proliferation of meat labels with "no
antibiotics" claims? What the heck is going on here?
It is estimated that 88% of the antibiotics produced or imported
into Canada are given to animals. While antibiotic use for treating
animals with disease is widely accepted, what is being questioned
is the widespread use for the treatment of subclinical disease, for
disease prevention and for improving growth production. That
concern is compounded by the fact that gaps in our regulatory
system mean that Canada has little knowledge of the level of
antibiotic use in agriculture. Veterinarians can prescribe drugs
for purposes not indicated on the product label (extra-label use),
and we still allow livestock producers to import veterinary drugs
for their own use (OUI) and bulk active pharmaceutical ingredients
(API) that can be mixed into feed on farm, even though these have
never been subject to Canadian risk assessment.
Even in the absence of clear science linking antibiotic use in
agriculture with AMR, industry and regulators have introduced many
guidelines, voluntary codes and programs to mitigate the risk. The
Canadian Veterinary Medical Association issued prudent use
guidelines in 2002. The Animal Nutrition Association of Canada is
pressing for the modernization of the Feeds Regulations to reduce
industry's reliance on antimicrobials. The Canadian Pork
Council's excellent quality assurance scheme (CQA) applies to
90 per cent of hogs slaughtered in Canada and prohibits OUI and
limits API. Health Canada has developed a number of guidelines and
is working on a new policy for minimizing AMR from antimicrobials
in veterinary medicine and animal food production. The poultry
industry is funding research and points out that most of the
antibiotics used prophylactically by chicken growers are not
prescribed to humans.
I was a speaker recently at two meetings of major trade
associations where I raised the matter as one that I thought
deserved to be more fully discussed, a view that was not shared by
all participants. Even regulators seemed reluctant to talk about
it. Interestingly, at one of these meetings, the chief scientist
for the American Meat Institute (AMI) announced that the
organization had decided that its number-1 research priority was
the problem of antibiotics in meat, as it was already a large and
growing controversy in that country.
Many consumers are scientifically illiterate, but they're
not stupid. If there's no problem, they ask, why are so many
other major countries tightening their regulations? And why do we
see such a proliferation of "antibiotic-free" labels in
meat counters? Aren't these processors and retailers implying
that their meat is safer than meat that doesn't make the claim?
If not, they are promoting a false impression, something that is
illegal under section 5 of the Food and Drugs Act.
Aren't consumers entitled to infer that other meat contains
antibiotics or else they would also make the claim?
I'm just an old lawyer not qualified to assess the science.
But, it seems to me, while the many voluntary guidelines, codes and
programs may serve to significantly minimize the science risk, they
are useless or worse to address the perception risk. Even if the
science is unsettled, even if there is no risk at all, the debate
may be over before it starts as concerned consumers choose
increasingly to buy only meat labelled as antibiotic free. As we
have seen in organic labelling, for many middle class Canadians at
least, the perception risk can trump the scientific risk, and the
science doesn't really matter.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.
Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.
The prospect of an internal investigation raises many thorny issues. This presentation will canvass some of the potential triggering events, and discuss how to structure an investigation, retain forensic assistance and manage the inevitable ethical issues that will arise.
From the boardroom to the shop floor, effective organizations recognize the value of having a diverse workplace. This presentation will explore effective strategies to promote diversity, defeat bias and encourage a broader community outlook.
Staying local but going global presents its challenges. Gowling WLG lawyers offer an international roundtable on doing business in the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia. This three-hour session will videoconference in lawyers from around the world to discuss business and intellectual property hurdles.
Effective September 1, 2016, the Disposition of Surplus Real Property Regulation to the Ontario Education Act was amended with the intention to reduce barriers to the formation of health and community hubs in Ontario.
Health Canada is proposing to change the way that it regulates non-prescription drugs, natural health products and cosmetics in Canada, which will now be referred to collectively as "self-care products."
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).