New federal rules aimed at combating a growing global health risk will require farmers to get a veterinary prescription before purchasing antibiotics for their animals.
The regulations, which come into effect Saturday, mean agricultural producers will no longer be able to buy antibiotic drugs over the counter at their local farm supply store. About 300 products — including tetracyclines, penicillins and other drugs used to treat common animal ailments like foot rot, pink-eye, and respiratory infections — are affected by the new rules.
The move is part of a broader government effort to enforce more stringent control and oversight of antibiotic use, as much in humans as in animals.
Science has proven repeated exposure to an antibiotic can lead bacteria to become resistant to that drug, rendering it useless. There is already evidence this is happening, with drug-resistant infections popping up in both humans and animals around the globe. The World Health Organization has called antibiotic resistance a “global crisis,” warning that if these drugs lose their effectiveness, many common infections, such as strep throat, could become life-threatening and the success of major surgery and cancer chemotherapy would be compromised.
“The measures that are being taken today are just the start,” said Keith Lehman, chief provincial veterinarian for the province of Alberta. “We will have to continue to analyze this and see what measures we can take to preserve the use of these antibiotics for as long as possible.”
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, approximately 80 per cent of medically important antibiotics sold in Canada go toward livestock use. Critics contend the improper use of some of these products is contributing to antibiotic resistance. On poultry farms, beef feedlots and in hog barns, animals are given antibiotics not only to treat illnesses but sometimes to prevent disease before it starts. Certain types of antimicrobials are also added to animal feed to promote growth and improve overall efficiency of livestock production.
Lehman said while many farmers already work closely with veterinarians to diagnose illnesses and treat animals, there are some who prefer to go it alone — misusing antibiotics as a result.
“When they face an animal health problem, they’re basically trying to make a diagnosis themselves, using a product they can get over the counter and hoping it works,” he said. “They’re the ones who are going to be most affected by this (the rule changes) and will notice the change most.”
Darcy Fitzgerald, executive director of Alberta Pork, said there are ongoing industry efforts to educate producers about the appropriate use of antibiotics. He emphasized farmers already have a strong business incentive not to overuse the drugs because they are expensive.
Fitzgerald added while the industry supports the new prescription requirement, it is concerned about access. The new rules limit the dispensing of products to veterinarians and pharmacies, meaning farmers will no longer be able to run out to their local UFA or Peavey Mart to pick up a dose. Farmers will still be able to buy feed pre-mixed with antibiotics from certified feed mills, with a prescription.
“We’re just trying to grasp the idea of on Dec. 1, where do we actually purchase our antibiotics from? Because not all vets carry these products … and I don’t think any pharmacies do,” he said.
“In some areas, it’s a really big concern because your vet clinic may be really far away,” said Karin Schmid, beef production specialist with Alberta Beef Producers. “What changes is the amount of forethought that has to be put in place to make sure that you have the proper prescriptions for the proper products on file so they can be filled when you need them.”
The government of Alberta is currently working on its own provincial strategy to combat antimicrobial resistance. Areas of focus include improved surveillance programs to track antimicrobial-resistant bacteria in humans, animals and retail meat; research into antibiotic alternatives, such as probiotics; and better infection prevention and control to lessen the need for antibiotics overall.
Schmid said the agriculture industry is keen to co-operate because it knows it has skin in the game when it comes to antibiotics.
“Just like when kids get sick in daycare, you mingle a bunch of cattle together in a feedlot and some of them are going to get sick,” she said. “So we need access to these products to protect animal health and welfare, and we also need to demonstrate that we are using these products appropriately so we can maintain that privilege to use them.”
According to the World Health Organization, 490,000 people developed multi-drug resistant tuberculosis globally in 2016, with drug resistance starting to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria as well.
Antibiotic resistance is known to be present in every country in the world. A study from the United Kingdom released in 2014 estimated that by 2050, as many as 10 million deaths a year due to antibiotic resistance are possible if significant action is not taken.
Source: Calgary Herald