Some 75 percent of all antibiotic and antimicrobial drugs sold in Canada are purchased to be administered to animals. However, the Canadian government is working to impose a tighter regulatory framework around the sale of antimicrobial drugs to stem the tide of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) infections both in animals and in humans.
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According to the proposed rules, “Regulations Amending the Food and Drug Regulations (Veterinary Drugs—Antimicrobial Resistance),” the goal of the proposed amendments is fivefold. They are intended to:
- Make certain that veterinary pharmaceuticals imported or sold in Canada follow Good Manufacturing Practices (GMPs);
- Force those who deal in pharmaceuticals from outside the country to handle them in a manner according with an Establishment License issued by Health Canada;
- Force manufacturers and importers of veterinary antimicrobials to print species-specific sales volume information;
- Create a legal alternative for manufacturers who wish to import and sell “low-risk” veterinary drugs; and
- Restrict all imports “for one’s own use” of certain drugs.
Principal among these amendments is the latter, since while Canada has stringent standards for veterinary drugs approved for sale inside its borders, a 2015 Auditor General of Canada report found farmers importing non-prescription antimicrobial drugs for use in their own animals.
Health Canada intends to catch up with the U.S. and European Union in removing any claims that antibiotics can promote growth—a key reason for their use.
Reasons for these changes are dire. The Regulatory Impact Analysis Statement issued by Health Canada bluntly says, “The overuse and misuse of antimicrobials in animals is a contributing factor to the development and spread of AMR. […] Antimicrobial-resistant infections are associated with a greater risk of death, more complex illnesses, longer hospital stays, and higher treatment costs.”
Response from the industry so far has been positive. Representatives from the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, the Canadian Meat Council, the Canadian Pork Council, Turkey Farmers of Canada, and the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association all told the Canadian Press that they are reviewing the changes, though there has been little in the way of pushback against the proposed rules.
One veterinarian advisor to the National Cattle Feeders’ Association, Dr. Joyce Van Donkersgoed, noted that her organization had been hoping to see such regulations for some time following rumors that some producers were importing antimicrobial drugs in order to try to give an edge to their products.
The Canadian government has no intentions to ban antimicrobials outright from animal feed, however. A spokesperson for Health Canada noted that antibiotics play an important role in treating and preventing diseases in food animals and, therefore, must remain available.