How managing antibiotics will change December 1

The sector has had two years to get ready, but greater restrictions will come at a cost, and with some surprises for farmers

Livestock producers across most of Canada will have to get accustomed to securing veterinarians’ prescriptions for a range of commonly-used antibiotics, once new policy changes brought in by the federal health ministry come into effect December 1 (see ‘5 things to know’ at bottom).

“The biggest thing for us will be not being able to sell penicillin, aramycin, the tetracyclines, scour boluses,” explained Stephen Hutton, owner of The Hitching Post farm input supply outlet in St. Marys. “It’s not a huge portion of our business, but it’s a portion of our business that helps us with customer service — people being able to come in and have a convenient place to get a bottle of penicillin and have it on hand to treat whatever might come up.”

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Why it matters: The changes cover medications classified by Health Canada as “Medically Important Antimicrobials” (MIA), and are aimed at preserving the effectiveness of these products in the treatment of human infections.

The measures are all about preserving medications for human health, says the federal government details on the regulations. Overuse of antimicrobials, in humans and in animals, has been implicated in the rising number of infections resistant to antimicrobials.

The executive director of the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada (ANAC) said medications in Quebec are already covered by a similar rule under provincial legislation; in every other province, some degree of change will come into effect December 1.

Melissa Dumont added that the powers for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) to require veterinarian’s prescriptions already existed within Health Canada’s legislation. Enacting the policy effectively brings Canada in line with the EU, U.S. and elsewhere.

“We were one of the last ones (on a global scale) to go this route,” Dumont said.

For ANAC members by far the biggest effect will be increased record-keeping. Some feed mills, if their business is predominantly dairy where medicated feeds are uncommon, will be largely unaffected. But if they concentrate on poultry, hogs, or even beef, starting Dec. 1 they’ll likely begin requiring a lot more prescriptions from producers.

ANAC comprises about 165 members, representing about 95 per cent of the commercial feed manufacturers in Canada.

“Until we get (to the Dec. 1 transition), it’s hard to get a good sense of the numbers,” Dumont said, but she estimated the increased record-keeping workload could double for some ANAC members, and increase by as much as five times for others. “It’s going to be very significant for some.”

She added, though, that the livestock feed industry has had approximately two years to prepare for the Dec. 1 transition, and in most cases feed mills already have protocols in place for the collection of prescriptions. The same isn’t necessarily true for producers – especially small-scale or backyard operators, who haven’t necessarily benefitted from the advance warnings sent out by commodity groups or industry organizations.

“There’s going to be a lot of panicked people,” she predicted. “But we’ve been trying to mitigate that as much as possible. The biggest part (of the preparations) has been education – educating everyone within the value chain.”

Outlets such as The Hitching Post, classified under the legislation as “livestock medicines outlets,” will be out of the over-the-counter antimicrobial business altogether. Hutton says the overall effect on his business should be minor, but he feels for the producers – who will now be faced with the added expense and time spent in securing prescriptions for commonly-used drugs.

“They need to be prepared ahead of time so they’re not calling the vet for a prescription on the day they need feed,” agreed Dumont. “And maybe they’re going to have to look at other alternatives” that might include purchasing medicated feed through a feed mill, or moving to injectables or water-soluble medications.

Either way, she stressed, they’ll need to move beyond contacting a veterinarian only for emergencies, and instead develop an ongoing relationship with a clinic so they’ll always have a prescription on hand.

For small-scale poultry producers, who may have never had a vet, they will need to find one before purchasing antimicrobials again. That can be a challenge as the number of poultry and small ruminant vets in Ontario is small.

At the Ontario Sheep Convention, there were several mentions of being prepared for “Dec. 1.” Brenna Mckeeman, who farms sheep with her boyfriend Matthew Francisco near Rockwood, said that their being part of a trial Flock Health Club has been helpful in solidifying a relationship with a veterinarian ahead of the Dec. 1 deadline.

Another change coming into effect Dec. 1 is preventing pharmaceutical companies from listing growth-promotant claims on packaging of MIA products. And changes enacted over the past two years relating to the same legislation included the elimination of own-use importation of MIAs, and limiting what’s known as “compounding of active pharmaceutical ingredients” in livestock treatments.

The new regulations bring use of antimicrobials under greater control by government and regulatory agencies, but it also will bring more costs to farmers.

5 things to know about antimicrobial changes

  1. A veterinarian’s prescription will be required for the purchase from feed mills of drugs newly added to a list of Medically Important Antimicrobials (MIA): supplements, premixes, complete feeds. Prescriptions will also be required for the purchase from vet clinics or pharmacists of: implants, injectables, in-water drugs, drug premixes for mixing in feed.
  2. The Canadian Veterinary Medical Association says “in order to issue a prescription, a veterinarian must document that a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship (VCPR) exists.” It’s not sufficient that a producer has visited and/or received services from a vet clinic in the past. Instead, it must be shown that a veterinarian has responsibility for making assessments and recommendations regarding animal health and need for medical treatment, before a prescription for medically important antimicrobials can be granted.
  3. Livestock-related growth promotant claims will no longer be allowed on packaging for products containing medically important antimicrobials.
  4. Labels for products containing in-feed and in-water medically important antimicrobials will include “responsible use statements”. The letters “Pr” (denoting prescription drug) will be displayed on packaging for all products for which prescriptions are now required.
  5. Selling or giving away a drug with Pr on the label to another producer is prohibited.

About the author


Stew Slater operates a small dairy farm on 150 acres near St. Marys, Ont., and has been writing about rural and agricultural issues since 1999.



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