Antibiotic reduction will address fear of resistance

RIDGETOWN, Ont. — There are two reasons Canadian pork producers should reduce their use of antibiotics, according to a speaker at the Southwestern Pork Conference Feb. 20.


If it doesn’t happen, it’s likely to become a trade issue with the European Union, skewing expectations for increased pork exports under the Canada-EU trade agreement, said Ernest Sanford, swine specialist with Boehringer Ingelheim Vetmedica (Canada).


More important, however, is the efficacy of the medications.


“Above all else, we need to conserve our antibiotics so that we can treat animals. That’s our concern. The status quo is not an option,” Sandford said.


“We don’t expect the pharmaceutical companies to produce many new antibiotics. We had our run from about 1950 to the end of the 20th century.”


However, Sanford said there is evidence that reduced use helps address the resistance issue. Bacterial resistance to antibodies is a concern for both livestock and the human population.


Sanford said bacterial cross-resistance from animals to humans is real problem, but it’s been overstated. While it may be true that 80 percent of the antibiotics used in North America are used to treat animals, only 18 per cent of those are of concern to human medicine.


“Fifty percent of the antibiotics doctors prescribed to people are not needed at all,” he said.


“That does not exonerate us but it gives some insight into the matter. We cannot count on this argument so we need to put our house in order.”


Sanford said the European Union’s experience shows antibiotic use can be reduced without seriously affecting production.


Sweden banned antimicrobial growth promoters in 1986, and the EU followed suit 10 years ago. Some EU member countries are now introducing programs to also reduce the therapeutic use of antibiotics.


Sandford said the Canada-EU trade agreement, signed in principal last fall, in intended to increase trade be-tween Canada and the world’s largest economy, including $400 million in beef and pork sales.


“The projection is it will add $20 to a Canadian hog.”


Sanford cautioned that the deal needs to be cleared by Canada’s provinces and territories and the 28 EU member states. 


“A deal is a least two years away and it could be longer,” he said.


China is an even bigger influence on hog production.


Companies from China have been buying land and livestock facilities around the world, including the $7.1 billion purchase of Smithfield Foods in the United States.


That is expected to continue.


“If we’re talking about pork, we’re talking about China. Half the world’s hogs are produced in China and half all pork is consumed in China,” Sanford said. 


“Pork is such a big issue there be-cause if they do not have pork to buy and eat, there would literally be riots in the streets.”

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