Obioha Durunna, PhD, PAg. Regional Livestock Specialist, Prince Albert and
Wendy Wilkins, DVM, PhD. Disease Surveillance Veterinarian
Do you currently buy antimicrobials (antibiotics) for your animals over-the-counter at your local farm supply or feed store? The federal Veterinary Drug Directorate (Health Canada) will soon introduce new regulation and policies that change the way that you will be able to access these important medications.
Specifically, when the changes come into effect in 2018, you will need a prescription from your veterinarian to be able to access these and other antibiotics when your animals get sick. A valid relationship with a vet is a pre-requisite, and is part of the upcoming changes to the use of veterinary antibiotics. These changes affect all livestock and poultry, even bees. It also applies whether you have one animal to treat or 100.
Antimicrobials are medicines that are used to kill microorganisms such as bacteria, virus and fungi, or slow their growth. Antibiotics are antimicrobials that target bacteria. Antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is the ability of bacteria or other microbial organisms to resist the effects of drugs or medication that were previously used to kill or control their growth. AMR is increasing much faster than we are able to develop or discover new antibiotics to combat it. It is important that we protect the antibiotics we currently have, and this is the reason for Health Canada’s changes to veterinary antibiotic access – to increase oversight of antibiotic use in animals, ensuring they are used appropriately.
Besides moving current over-the-counter antibiotics to prescription use only, other changes are happening. As of January 1, 2017, manufacturers have voluntarily removed all label claims that promote the use of medically important antibiotics for growth. Medically important antibiotics (MIA) are those antibiotics such as penicillin, tetracycline, streptomycin etc. that can be used to treat bacterial infections in humans. Removal of label claims for growth promotion means that using these drugs for growth promotion is no longer acceptable in any circumstance. In addition, manufacturers will be required to report their sales volume of antibiotic drugs. It is also expected that there will be smoother approval process for those veterinary health products that may reduce the need for antibiotics.
The new law will require that a veterinary-client-patient relationship (VCPR) be established between a producer and a veterinarian before the vet can lawfully prescribe such medications. Consequently, if you don’t currently have a vet that is familiar with your farm and the law kicks in, you cannot be issued a prescription, because a valid relationship does not exist.
These changes will also affect feeds that contain antibiotics which you purchase from commercial feed mills. The implication is that you need a prescription before you can have the commercial feed mills mix any antibiotic into any feed. This includes packaged feeds that you might currently purchase off the farm supply store shelf, such as medicated chick starter.
These actions are not taking away your ability to care for your animals. Rather it helps to ensure more judicious use of antibiotics in your farm. Reducing antibiotic resistance in the livestock sector helps preserve the health and welfare of both animals and humans. Most producers already work with their veterinarians before administering antibiotics to their sick animals or to control or prevent the spread of particular diseases.
Even though antibiotic resistance can occur naturally, any misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans can accelerate the development of resistance. When we ignore label instructions by under-dosing or overdosing antibiotics to livestock or ourselves, we leave the doors open for unintended consequences.
We know that antibiotic medications may not kill 100 per cent of the intended organisms. Any misuse through unprescribed dosage of such medications enables the “fittest” organism to evolve and survive by developing resistance against such drug. With such innate protection properties in their DNA, the resistant organisms reproduce, passing those resistant genes to the subsequent generations or other microorganisms.
While it is highly unlikely that we would ever eliminate antibiotic use or antimicrobial resistance in the livestock sector, producers want continued access to effective antibiotics to ensure their animals remain healthy. However, the rapid rise of antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance presents a global challenge that warrants a change in the status quo regarding access to these drugs. The increasing public scrutiny of the livestock sector also demands that producers demonstrate that they are doing their best towards protecting their animals and customers.
If you do not have a valid relationship with a veterinarian, now is a good opportunity to develop one. There may be government programs available to you to help kick-start such a relationship. Most notably is the Verified Beef Production plus program operated by the Beef Cattle Research Council. Producers can access funds for on-farm biosecurity assessment that may comprise of several vet visits. Producers can make use of this opportunity to establish that relationship before the program runs out on January 21, 2018. There is information available for the beef biosecurity program and the sheep biosecurity program.
Apart from judicious treatment when needed to relieve sick animals of the pain and suffering, producers can reduce stress and incidence of diseases by vaccination and parasite control. Other strategies that will help you improve animal health and welfare of your animals include good nutrition programs and employing recommended husbandry practices.
Just like humans, animals get sick and when they do, they have to be treated to avoid decreased productivity, economic losses and animal welfare issues. Untreated sick animals do not help the bottom line of producers. The best method to reduce antibiotic use is to prevent bacterial disease in the first place. Producers are encouraged to employ recommended on-farm practices that will help minimize the use of antibiotics in their operations.