Livestock producers will be required next year to go through veterinarians to obtain antibiotics for use on their farms
OLDS, Alta. — As of Dec. 1, veterinary prescriptions will be required for antibiotics for Canadian livestock.
The new federal legislation means big changes and covers everything from beef to bees. It could mean added costs for producers, who must also develop a working relationship with a veterinarian.
“Producers are going to have to work with a vet. That is going to be a cost change for them,” said Dr. Keith Lehman, Alberta’s provincial veterinarian.
The new rules require the removal of growth promotion claims for antimicrobials used in animal feed. Drugs such as tetracycline and penicillin will no longer be available over the counter.
The new policy covers injectable products, boluses, calf scour treatments, and component and compudose implants. It does not cover ionophores because these are not used in human medicine.
A prescription is also required for commercially mixed feeds containing medication.
“They cannot mix until a prescription is provided to them,” Lehman said at an antibiotics information day organized by Alberta Farm Animal Care.
Commercial feed mills will be able to sell medicated complete feeds but cannot sell the drug for mixing on farm. A vet can sell drugs for on-farm mixing.
There will be increased veterinary oversight of all medically important antibiotics.
The federal government determines which drugs are on the prescription list while the provinces have the authority to regulate prescribing and dispensing. Authorities want to make sure dispensing is handled with proper oversight.
Accessibility is the number one issue for producers who may not work with a veterinarian or have one nearby.
Alberta Agriculture calculates that 96 percent of registered farms are within 50 kilometres of a veterinary practice and 99 percent are within 100 km of a practice.
The expected outcome of these new rules is reduced use, said Dr. Duane Landals, president of the SPCA and past registrar of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.
The major concern is the increase of antimicrobial resistance and the potential risk to human health when evolving superbugs cannot be treated with any products.
All medications used to combat infections are antimicrobial, while antibiotics are a subset of drugs used to treat bacteria.
Agriculture is often charged with being a major contributor to resistance because of overuse. Eighty-eight percent of the total volume of antimicrobials distributed is for animals.
“If you are a human health professional and you are having an issue with antimicrobial resistance in your patients, the easiest thing for you to say, rightly or wrongly, is stop using them in agriculture,” Landals said.
“Anytime we expose any bacteria to an antibiotic product, we are selecting for antibiotic resistance.”
There is global concern about antimicrobial resistance, but there is also need to increase the effectiveness for use in animals and human health.
“We know managing our use of antimicrobials properly for animal health and human health is the right thing to do,” he said.
In 2016, the United Nations released a declaration to take action on antimicrobial resistance, calling it a critical human health risk. Canada released an action plan in 2015 and this year circulated a “one health” framework for action.
The role of veterinarians is changing under these new frameworks. They are encouraged to work on improving animal health rather than reach for a bottle of medicine.
“As a veterinarian, I want to make the best decision in treating my patient,” Landals said.
“I want that animal to get better, and I want the best treatment.”
Veterinarians need to document the treatment under the new rules, detailing the specific drug, dosage and duration of medication. They need to document the prescriptions and what they were used for and keep medical records. The vet also needs to be available for follow-up care.
Veterinarians maintain the right to prescribe extra label treatment to cover minor species such as sheep and goats.
A new approach is the veterinary-client relationship.
The veterinarian agrees to work with the producer and the producer agrees to follow the professional’s instructions.
Dispensing of drugs is limited to pharmacists and veterinarians. Producers cannot show up at a clinic and ask for antibiotics without the veterinarian diagnosing the animals needing treatment.
This approach is intended to ensure the correct antibiotic is used to treat the disease, said Darrell Dalton, registrar of the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association.
“The important thing to remember is veterinarians can’t do this alone. Veterinarians have been singled out and given increased responsibility for oversight for antibiotics. It has to be done in conjunction with producers,” he said.
“If we don’t take care of our antimicrobial use in the future and do it prudently, we are going to lose either the access to those antimicrobials or actually lose the ability of these antimicrobials to do what they want.”