Canada gets failing grade on antibiotic use in animals

Canada’s lack of progress in regulating veterinary use of antibiotic drugs has been called “a continuing international and national embarrassment” in light of dire warnings about the growing danger of drug resistance, says a report in the Canadian Veterinary Journal.

The report – prepared by a group that includes representatives from academia, veterinary medicine and industry – found that Canada has not closed a regulatory loophole that allows the importation, sale and use of drugs that have not been approved by Health Canada despite more than a decade of study on the issue, resulting in a grade of D.

The top-priority recommendation – a national system to monitor use in animals – fared slightly better, with a C grade.

The lack of effective monitoring and control of antimicrobial drugs in animals in Canada is part of the global problem of antimicrobial resistance, which can make widely used drugs ineffective and raises the spectre of a ‘post-antibiotic age’ in which minor wounds or infections could be deadly.

“It would be nice to see a few As on there,” said John Prescott, a pathobiology professor with the Ontario Veterinary College at the University of Guelph and co-chair of the committee that prepared the report.

Government and industry groups have been working on new regulations but progress has been “painfully slow,” he said, largely because of a fragmented regulatory framework in which federal authorities regulate the sale of antimicrobials while provincial authorities regulate their use.

The report – Stewardship of antimicrobial drugs in animals in Canada: How are we doing? – appears in the March issue of the Canadian Veterinary Journal and follows previous studies that have called for better monitoring of antibiotics used in animals.

Resistant bacteria can be transferred to humans through the food supply – when people eat improperly cooked E. coli-tainted chicken, for example – or when humans have direct contact with animals at, say, a petting zoo

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in December announced plans to phase out the use of antibiotics in animals to make them grow more quickly or require less food, and to phase in veterinary oversight for “remaining appropriate therapeutic uses.”

So far, Canada has not followed suit. That measure is ranked number two on the committee’s report card.

Market pressure may wind up resulting in changes that – so far, at least – regulation has been slow to deliver, Dr. Patrick said.

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