In an effort to curb growing antimicrobial resistance, Health Canada has tightened the rules around feeding drugs to farm animals.
Livestock farmers in Canada are being urged to develop a closer relationship with their veterinarian, ahead of significant changes in how farmers will be allowed to administer antibiotics to animals. Starting in December 2018, hundreds of common veterinary antibiotics will require a prescription, issued by a veterinarian who has an active relationship with the farmer. In other words, the vet has to know the farmer's operation on a personal level.
This change, issued by Health Canada in July of last year, is part of an attempt to curb growing antibiotic resistance, a problem that already claims 50,000 lives a year in the United States and Europe. One British study, cited by Maryn McKenna in her book, Superbug, estimates that, unless we get antibiotic use under control by 2050, the death toll will be more like 10 million people per year.
Up until now, antibiotics have been used recklessly by the animal agriculture industry. Eighty percent of the world's antibiotics go to animals, many of them used preventatively. This means that the animals aren't necessarily sick; they're being dosed to avoid the outbreak of disease. A veterinary professor from the University of Guelph said in a January 4th interview with CBC Radio that 80 percent of antibiotics currently used in Canada are not prescribed.
Why would a farmer do this? Administering antibiotics allows farmers to raise animals in "concentrated animal feeding operations" (CAFOs), which is synonymous with cramped, filthy, and unhealthy conditions. The drugs have the added benefit of fattening animals more quickly, meaning they can get to market faster. (More: You can thank antibiotics for all the cheap meat)
While there is little economic incentive not to drug livestock, the human health concerns are enormous. Dr. Carolyn Sanford, provincial veterinarian for Prince Edward Island, told CBC that "the overuse of antibiotics in animals can cause antimicrobial resistance where microbes begin resisting treatments and can lead [to] diseases or super bugs that may end up in humans."
"We need to make sure that when we get sick and when we go to the hospital or go to the doctor that the antibiotics or other antimicrobials that are prescribed to us are actually going to work against whatever's making us ill."
These changes cannot come soon enough. If you want your children and grandchildren to live in a world where a scraped knee, an emergency C-section, or dental surgery does not carry a very real risk of death through infection, then it's time to rethink seriously the way in which we raise animals for human consumption.