Industrial Agriculture Still
Dosing Farm Animals with

Web note: Organic agriculture prohibits the feeding of antibiotics to farm
Biotechnology Newswatch
September 16, 2002
Mike Smith

Canadians propose tighter reins on antibiotics for farm animals

An expert panel is urging the Canadian government to restrict the use
of antibiotics on farm animals, in order to counter the growing threat of
antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

A key recommendation would require farmers to have a prescription for
antibiotics they use on animals.

The 19-member Advisory Committee on Animal Uses of Antimicrobials and
Impact on Resistance and Human Health, with representatives from the
medical, veterinary, and farm sectors, was asked by the Canadian health
ministry to study the so-called ''superbug'' issue two years ago.

The panel submitted its report in late August, and the government is
studying its recommendations, a health ministry official said.

Currently, in both the U.S. and Canada, antibiotics for farm use are
available over the counter, and even over the Internet, according to panel
member Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital
and a world expert on antibiotic resistance.

''In this era of emerging anti-microbial resistance, people realize
there's a human health issue and there's also one in agriculture,'' Low

The panel also urged that Canada regulate the import of antibiotics for
agriculture and set up a monitoring system so that officials would know the
extent and purpose of drug use on Canadian farms.

Although it is difficult to get solid numbers, because drugs for farm
use are mostly uncontrolled, Low said between 50 and 80 per cent of all
antibiotics are used in animals, often in small doses that promote the
growth of resistance.

Antibiotic resistance in farm animals ''is a huge issue,'' said
physician David Wallinga of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy,
a Minneapolis-based non-profit organization specializing in healthy rural

Wallinga said there's an emerging scientific consensus that antibiotic
resistance in animals can be transferred to people in several ways. One of
the simplest, he said, is by eating food that contains resistant bacteria
that cause disease in humans.

As a medical doctor, he said, requiring prescriptions for antibiotics
''seems like a no-brainer.'' But, he said, ''you can go into a feed store
and buy (antibiotics) by the pound.''

Bills addressing the farm antibiotic issue have been introduced in the
Senate and House of Representatives, but have not yet been debated, said
physician Tamar Barlam of the Washington-based Center for Science in the
Public Interest.

She said it's unlikely that a requirement for prescriptions will be
introduced in the U.S., because veterinarians think it would be too
cumbersome a procedure.

Indeed, Low said Canada may stop short of requiring a prescription
every time a drug is used, and instead allow farmers to get refills on a
prescribed drug, so long as they are using it for the same purpose.

Most of the antibiotics used in farm animals are intended to promote
growth, rather than treat or prevent disease, Low said, and are
administered at low doses in feed. The panel suggested antibiotics should
only be used for the purposes for which they were approved in the first

As well, the panel suggested, antibiotics used to promote growth should
be tested to see which are effective. ''If we have data saying they are
wasting their time, (farmers) won't want to use these drugs,'' Low said.

Low noted that the use of antibiotics in low doses creates exactly the
conditions in which antibiotic resistance would be expected to arise.

Indeed, he said, most scientists now agree that the recent emergence of
one strain of human superbug - vancomycin-resistant enterococcus (VRE) -
came about because of the use of an animal antibiotic, avoparcin, to
promote growth.

The good news, he said, is that a subsequent ban on avoparcin in Europe
appears to have been accompanied by a decline in VRE.


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