Kicking the antimicrobial habit

Farmers have already lost ability to use antimicrobials for growth enhancement; tighter purchasing restrictions are next

Farmers worry new Health Canada regulations that require veterinary prescriptions for commonly used antimicrobials will affect the industry’s competitiveness.

Why it matters: Resistance to antimicrobials continues to grow among diseases that harm humans. Limiting the amount of those antimicrobials used in animal agriculture has become a step to maintaining antimicrobials for human use.

The use of antimicrobials to promote growth has already been removed as part of the new antimicrobial management regime, as has the ability for farmers to import antimicrobials for their own use on their farms.

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The next step effective Dec. 1 is the requirement for all use of antimicrobials to be covered by a veterinarian-issued prescription, with an established relationship with the farmer and animals being treated.

“The sky is not going to fall in December of 2018,” said Greg Wideman, a swine veterinarian with South West Veterinary Services in Stratford. “If pigs need antibiotics, we’re going to have them,” he told the London Swine Conference.

Antibiotics will still be available for disease management and prevention but not for growth.

There will still be access to commercial and autogenous vaccines, which will be more important than ever. Autogenous vaccines are those made from infected local material that allows the animals being vaccinated to be exposed to the strain of the disease of concern on the farm or in the area.

Veterinarians will also be able to continue to prescribe antibiotics labelled for other uses if it is necessary — called off-label use.

What’s an antimicrobial and what’s an antibiotic? Both terms are used interchangeably, although technically the term antimicrobial refers to substances that act on microbes, such as fungus or other microorganisms in addition to bacteria. Antibiotics act on bacteria.

There were concerns raised at Ontario Pork’s annual meeting about what giving veterinarians a monopoly on antibiotic prescriptions will mean for competitiveness. The regulations have changed the status of antimicrobials to high risk, so only veterinarians, pharmacies and feed mills will be able to dispense prescription, medically important antimicrobials. That means that the livestock medicine outlets that farmers have used to bring down their medication costs can no longer be used.

“I know this is about AMR (antimicrobial resistance), but how much consideration was given to competitiveness?” asked Amy Cronin at the Ontario Pork annual meeting. She’s the past-chair of the board of Ontario Pork and produces hogs in Canada and the U.S.

Cronin isn’t just concerned about the cost of extra fees paid to veterinarians to write prescriptions, but also the potential markup in drug prices. The use of livestock medicine outlets allowed for competitive price checking.

“There has to be oversight on the cost of prescription drugs. That needs consideration before it comes into effect Dec. 1, 2018. It needs to be addressed in a timely fashion so we are not at a competitive disadvantage to our neighbours to the south.”

Kim Lambert, associate registrar of the College of Veterinarians of Ontario, who was at the meeting to answer questions about the regulations, said the college doesn’t set fees, but if someone was charging exorbitant fees, a complaint could be lodged.

Maureen Anderson, the lead veterinarian for animal health and welfare at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, said the changes are a business opportunity for pharmacists to dispense veterinary drugs.

There is some question about how many pharmacies have capacity to manage bulk volumes of antimicrobials for farms competitively.

There will be some leniency. A farmer won’t have to call the veterinarian every time an antimicrobial needs to be used, said Lambert. A Standard Operating Procedure will be set up between the veterinarian and the producer, although that SOP has to have an expiry date, like six months down the line. During that time the farmer could get a new bottle of the medication if needed.

Farmers and owners of hobby livestock used to dropping by their local farm supply store to grab some antibiotics for a sick animal will now have to get those drugs through a veterinarian.

About the author


John Greig has spent his career in agriculture journalism and communications. He lives on a farm near Ailsa Craig, Ontario. Contact John at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @jgreig



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