British Columbia producers were ready when fast food giants such as A&W started looking for antibiotic free chicken.
Processors sought out growers prepared to meet the requirements of a differentiated program, which requires grain fed, antibiotic free chicken. From there, certification programs were built.
“Whatever the requirements are, we just need to build an auditing program around it and make sure our growers are capable of doing it,” said Katie Lowe of the B.C. Chicken Marketing Board.
More corporations are developing strict requirements for farmers to follow when growing products.
McDonald’s USA has announced it plans to stop using chickens given antibiotics that are also used in human medicine.
The program starts at the hatcheries, where eggs are exposed to antibiotics to control diseases such as yolk sack infection. The requirements continue throughout the food chain and will be phased in over two years.
The A&W program also starts in the hatchery. Lowe said chicks may be vaccinated, but they do not receive antibiotics.
“If the chickens get sick and antibiotics are used, they have to go into the mainstream,” she said.
B.C. farmers produce 30 million kilograms of chicken every eight weeks, which means they are able to meet the supply requirements. However, some farm practices have had to change.
“The antibiotic free program is quite challenging for producers,” Lowe said.
“Most of the antimicrobials used in poultry production are Category 4 ones, which have no relevance to human health.”
However, those products are also disallowed.
Chicken board auditors check the participating farms and A&W sends an auditor to the farm to confirm the programs are followed.
Canadian chicken producers have had an on overall strategy to reduce antimicrobial use since May.
“The main policy that has been put in place to date has been the elimination of the preventive uses of Category 1 antibiotics, those antibiotics that are most clinically important to human medicine,” said Steve Leech of Chicken Farmers of Canada.
Compliance among producers is ensured through on-farm food safety programs with regular audits recognized by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and provincial organizations.
Category 1 drugs include ceftiofur to control infections and coccidiosis. These kinds of products are sold under brand names such as Excenel and Baytril. They are still available as a treatment option when necessary and prescribed by a veterinarian.
Category 4 antibiotics are still allowed.
A document that indicates the birds have not been treated to prevent disease with Category 1 antibiotics is submitted to the CFIA and the processor when they are sent for processing.
McDonald’s Canada has not yet approached chicken producers about antibiotic use.
“We are certainly seeing a lot more interest from companies and from retailers and food service, either looking at reduced use or raised without the use of antibiotics,” Leech said.
“There is a lot of discussion going on within the industry about it.”
Antimicrobials have strict withdrawal times, and organizations such as the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance track selected bacteria on farms, abbatoirs and stores to understand trends in antimicrobial use and resistance among poultry, hogs and cattle that are treated with these medications.
Bacteria of interest in chicken and turkey are campylobacter, salmonella, and generic E. coli from fresh retail samples collected in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec.