This article originally appeared
in Canada and is republished with the permission of the
While the medical community recognizes that the emergence and
spread of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans is a potential
disaster for humanity, and that it is the overuse of antimicrobials
in human medicine that is the largest contributor, there is still a
broad consensus that the use of antibiotics in animals may
contribute to the problem, though the degree is still unclear.
The scale of the AMR crisis was dramatically demonstrated
recently with the release on May 19, 2016 of a landmark report to
the U.K. government that reckons that drug-proof bugs already kill
700,000 people a year and warns that that number is likely to rise
to at least 10 million by 2050. I wrote a series of articles for
this magazine in 2013 and in the spring of 2014 discussing various
reports that attempted to assess the extent to which antibiotics in
animals contributed to the crisis and I identified a number of
regulatory changes to mitigate the problem that were necessary and
That spring the Canadian Animal Health Institute (CAHI), the
trade association representing Canadian veterinary drug
manufacturers, and Health Canada (HC) announced their intention to
work together to develop a policy on prudent use of antibiotics.
They promised (1) the removal of growth promotion and/or production
claims of medically important antimicrobial (MIA) drugs and (2) to
develop options to strengthen veterinary oversight of antimicrobial
use in food animals. At the same time producer organizations were
developing strategies to promote more prudent on-farm use, and
veterinary groups undertook to develop new policies and
So, after all the promises, undertakings and commitments, how
are we doing? I’m delighted to report: pretty well.
In March 2015 the Harper government announced the Federal Action
Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance and Use, committing to move
expeditiously on several regulatory reforms. I’m told that
notices in Canada Gazette I are imminent and that these
will bring in regulatory amendments that will remove growth
promotion claims for all MIAs. Moreover, all MIAs used in feed and
water would come under prescription drug status, bringing them
under the oversight of veterinarians. CAHI estimates that this
would bring 140 drugs under veterinary oversight.
I’m pleased to report as well that the federal government
is finally taking steps to address the longstanding problem of
animal owners taking advantage of HC’s own use importation
provisions (OUI) to import for personal use active pharmaceutical
ingredients (API) that are not approved for sale in Canada. There
are several problems with this regulatory gap, including the
inability to know which antimicrobials are used in Canada, in what
quantities and for what purposes. The new regulations will forbid
animal owners to import MIA in finished form from other
Major producer groups continue to take concrete steps to address
the AMR issue. The Canadian Pork Council continues to operate its
model quality assurance scheme (CQA), which applies to all its
members and represents over 90 per cent of hogs slaughtered in
Canada. The Chicken Farmers of Canada has embarked on a
comprehensive process to develop and apply strict new rules to
ensure prudent use.
The Canadian Council of Veterinary Registrars and the Canadian
Veterinary Medical Association have been slow in responding to the
challenge of AMR, but they have now developed a comprehensive plan
and a detailed set of recommendations that will be the main topic
for their annual meeting this summer.
Veterinary medicine is a provincially regulated profession so
getting all jurisdictions to co-operate to create a truly national
system is not easy, but they seem to have made good progress in the
last two years.
The food industry is always happy to respond to market demands
for new food attributes, especially when it can charge a premium
for them, and even when most of these claimed attributes (like,
say, organic) will have no positive effect on safety, taste,
quality or sustainability. Proof of prudent use of antibiotics is
not one of these. While there is more work to be done, Canadian
regulators, producers, processors and retailers have made
remarkable strides to respond to the legitimate concern posed by
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