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Organic Consumers Association

Antibiotics Injected Into Chicken Eggs is Making Canadians Resistant to Meds

Disturbing data from the Public Health Agency of Canada reveals that antibiotics such as cephalosporin used in chicken hatcheries across the country is causing human resistance to the medicines, according to a startling report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal today.

Surveillance information from the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance (CIPARS), which is funded by the public health agency, "strongly indicates that cephalosporin resistance in humans is moving in lockstep with use of the drug in poultry production," the CMAJ explains.

In 2005, chicken bought at Ontario and Quebec supermarkets had high levels of cephalosporin-resistant bacteria. Meanwhile, widespread use of ceftiofur, which is a type of cephalosporin, was found at Quebec chicken hatcheries. When farmers stopped using ceftiofur briefly due to the evidence drawn by CIPARS, there was a massive drop in cephalosporin resistance in salmonella samples taken from humans and retail poultry, says the CMAJ.

More than a couple of years have passed since then, and researchers are once again seeing an increase in resistance. The latest data for Ontario, released in March, shows that there was a spike in ceftiofur resistance in humans and chickens. Between 2007 and 2008 there was a jump in bacteria resistance in retail chicken in Quebec, Saskatchewan and British Columbia-from 29 per cent to 46 per cent in the latter province, which prompted a B.C. disease specialist to call the rise "alarming."

Cephalosporin is not approved for use in chickens or eggs, but it is often "robotically injected" into eggs at chicken hatcheries as a preventative measure to stave off infections, reports the CMAJ. This occurs on an off- or extra-label basis, which means that the drug is being used for unapproved reasons. Health Canada has issued a safety warning label about off-label use of cephalosporin, but critics say that is not enough and want tighter restrictions or a ban on the sale of these antibiotics for food animal production.

Such a move wouldn't come easily. Last July, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tried to ban off-label use of cephalosporin after it analyzed CIPARS data. The food animal industry pushed back, and so the FDA recanted. Some suspect a similar sequence of events would occur here. The CMAJ even goes as far as to suggests that "in Canada, it appears that industry concerns trump precautionary principles."    

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