Antibiotic resistance is real, warns professor

Mass medicating with antibiotics can impact human medicine and consumer backlash is bad for the industry

Pork producers need to change their mindset away from mass medications using antibiotics as a first choice, says a professor of veterinary medicine.

“In the future, I think we should be looking at vaccines as the default rather than antimicrobials,” said John Harding of the University of Saskatchewan’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

“The reason for that is antimicrobials have an impact on resistance at the farm level, (which could) potentially have an impact as spillover in human medicine.… Resistance is real.”

Harding spoke at the recent Sask-atchewan Pork Industry Symposium in Saskatoon, where he focused on vaccines and the social license to produce pork.

He said the public’s perception that massive amounts of antimicrobials are used on farms to treat disease or in anticipation of a disease is bad for the industry.

“It’s mass medication that is problematic, and we really cannot be using that as the default for that much longer,” he said.

He thinks most producers would continue to select antimicrobials over vaccines, but that’s probably the wrong decision in most cases from a social licence perspective.

“It could be that the producer is still not aware of the issues or extent of the issues, hasn’t experienced resistance first hand, is struggling with the cost side of the business and the labour side as well,” he said.

“In a conventional farm where you’ve got the antibiotics that you can grab off of the shelf quickly, my guess is eight farms out of 10 would probably go for the antibiotic before the vaccine if there’s a cost differential and if there’s a labour differential.… I think what they should be doing is selecting the vaccine even if it costs more and even if it’s not 100 percent effective and then using the end microbial as the additional that they may or may not need to bring whatever disease under control.… So our default should be vaccine use, and I don’t think we’re there yet in the industry.”

Harding said there is still confusion about what consumers want, despite ongoing research.

Studies show consumers want pork that is free of residue, antimicrobials and hormones. They want a safe, wholesome product at a low price.

Harding said consumers’ ideas about safe food are confusing.

“Keeping pigs healthy in farms without the use of antimicrobials is very difficult, so we would turn to vaccines and better management to do that, and I think you need both of them hand in hand,” he said.

“So I would have thought, logically speaking, having vaccines as a substitute for antimicrobials to keep pigs healthy would be the way we should go.”

However, Harding is surprised with research results that indicate consumers are reluctant to buy pork that comes from pigs that have been vaccinated.

“To me, that is a positive outcome that would be a win-win for everybody: the producer, the pig, the consumer,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’m confused. I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

He thinks what may be occurring in the livestock sector is a spillover effect in which a certain segment of the public is reluctant to vaccinate against common childhood diseases or seasonal influenza.

Another possibility is that the general public doesn’t understand agriculture, particularly intensive livestock production.

“When you don’t understand something, it basically becomes fearful, so don’t go there until you understand it,” he said.

Harding said education is the key to bridging the gap between the consumer and farmer, particularly with intensive livestock production.

“There’s various people who can take lead roles in that,” he said.

“You’ve got the veterinary community; the pork industry in general could be taking a bigger role.”

Another important segment is grade school educators who may not be scientifically literate regarding agriculture and medicine.

“I think they are very influential people, and they can send the wrong message very quickly,” Harding said.

“So maybe we should be educating the educators as much as educating the general consumer.”

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Comments

  • John Fefchak

    Large -scale corporate hog production is one of the most contentious issues to confront rural North America in recent history.
    The social fabric of many communities has been ripped apart by controversy between opposing views of these large-scale corporate hog operations.
    Hog factories can no longer be considered farming or agriculture , or even agri-business.
    This is industry, pure and simple. We must remember that this is not a natural or inevitable evolution of agriculture. This is a deliberate plan by a handful of corporations to profit from consolidation, and ultimately control the hog industry.
    Disease is very commonplace in these operations, and now with a new super bug to deal with in the U.S. ( which doctors have been dreading ) one might think, there might be a trend to alter, how hogs are raised ! Sadly, I doubt that will happen.
    You see, the history of the hog industry in Manitoba, as in most other provinces, has largely been one of weak or inadequate regulation, more attuned to promote economic expansion than to protect the public interest or the health issues to the animals themselves. It’s all about Money !

  • John Fefchak

    Large -scale corporate hog production is one of the most contentious issues to confront rural North America in recent history.

    The social fabric of many communities has been ripped apart by controversy between opposing views of these large-scale corporate hog operations.

    Hog factories can no longer be considered farming or agriculture , or even agri-business.

    This is industry, pure and simple. We must remember that this is not a natural or inevitable evolution of agriculture. This is a deliberate plan by a handful of corporations to profit from consolidation, and ultimately control the hog industry.

    Disease is very commonplace in these operations, and now with a new super bug to deal with in the U.S. ( which doctors have been dreading ) one might think, there might be a trend to alter, how hogs are raised ! Sadly, I doubt that will happen.

    You see, the history of the hog industry in Manitoba, as in most other provinces, has largely been one of weak or inadequate regulation, more attuned to promote economic expansion than to protect the public interest or the health issues to the animals themselves. It’s all about Money!

    As citizens of this country, we need to decide what kind of a country we want to live in. A healthy, vibrant, rural economy with family farms. Small, local abattoirs is good for rural Canada as well. We need to restore public confidence in the food system (currently very low). We need to develop a food supply system that does not destroy community, here in Manitoba, Canada or in other countries. Farmers must be valued for the contribution they make to our society.

    Sadly, this is not taking place in Manitoba. The public good, concerns for our health, the environment and protection to our water sources has fallen through the cracks.

    • Harold

      This from health Canada: There is increasing evidence that the use of antimicrobial agents in veterinary medicine and livestock production is an important contributing factor to the emergence and persistence of AMR in bacteria in humans. The spread of organisms with resistance traits from animals to humans necessitates the assessment of human health risks associated with AMU in food-producing animals.

      Canada is a major source of food-producing animals for domestic and international markets, with approximately 19 times the number of animals than humans in the country. The majority (73%) of antimicrobials distributed to animals were in the same classes as those antimicrobials used in human medicine. In 2014, approximately 82%Footnote 8 of antimicrobials important to human medicine were distributed and/or sold for use in food-producing animals. Antimicrobials are used in food-producing animals (e.g., chickens, pigs and cattle) for the treatment and prevention of disease, and to improve feed efficiency/promote growth.

      In Canada, as in many other countries, AMR is monitored in chicken, pork and beef for Escherichia coli, Campylobacter and Salmonella as a way to measure the potential movement of AMR priority organisms from animals to humans. In comparison to the countries participating in the European Surveillance of Veterinary Antimicrobial Consumption (ESVAC) network, Canada ranked 7th highest out of 27 countries for increasing levels of antimicrobial sales adjusted by populations and weightsFootnote 9. Canada’s total milligrams distributed, adjusted by population, was 44 times that used in Norway (country with the lowest sales) and less than half of that reported by Cyprus (the country with the highest sales)

      “Harding said consumers’ ideas about safe food are confusing”. Indeed.

  • Denise

    I wonder how many barns full of pigs will have to die from diseases ,like PEDv, or barns will be burned to the ground when these operations fail to produce the profits needed to make this system viable?
    Einstein said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
    Large-scale corporate intensive hog production is proving to be a ‘failed model’ for producers, communities and ,last but not least, the unfortunate animals caught up in this unsustainable system.
    If there are no drugs left to control disease, in these intensive factory operations, then finally (hopefully) the doors to these prisons will have to be opened to let the animals outdoors to live a lot of their time, in the fresh air, sunshine, and connect with the land. The factory barns could be retro-fitted for shelter during inclement weather.
    All animals need these basic necessities to maintain good health. Of course, there will be health issues that crop up, from time to time. But the present system encourages diseases and the heavy use of drugs. This is not the way to produce good quality pork!
    How long will these guys beat their heads against the barn doors and witness the pain and suffering of unhealthy livestock plus lost profits before they consider a new way of operating?

  • old grouchy

    Someone forgot to inform Suzie Q. Homemaker that her insistence on antibiotics for her child with the sniffles where she doesn’t finish the full course of treatment is a huge part of this problem. But then the customer is always right even when the customer is wrong – – – right?

    • Harold

      You are a customer old grouchy, and exactly when have you been wrong?
      Always? Further, many have been given antibiotics when in fact their use was unnecessary or useless. This has become well known. Who was wrong? The consumer? Heard of any pharmaceutical recalls causing death or permanent injury? Who was wrong? The consumer?. I’m not sure that Suzie Q dispenses antibiotics at her will, but for all she does in the home, she sure receives a bad “rap”.

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