In 2014, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized the increased development of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) as a global crisis. Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General of WHO stated, “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.” This will affect generations to come. Later that year, our federal Minister of Health demanded that an action plan be developed by Health Canada to address this issue in Canada.
As a result, Health Canada has stated that as of December 1, 2018, all antimicrobials (an agent that kills microorganisms or stops their growth) will be available by prescription only under veterinary oversight. The government recognizes the important and critical role that veterinarians play (by virtue of their education, experience and accountability) in providing oversight of the use of antimicrobials. We know that 80% of all antimicrobials used are used in animal agriculture. Veterinarians are being given the great responsibility to be stewards of good antimicrobial use, and thus help in contributing to agriculture’s efforts to help slow or reverse the trends of AMR.
AMR occurs when microorganisms (germs, bacteria, fungi) become resistant to the antimicrobials to which they are exposed. Those of us involved in animal agriculture recognize that the use of antimicrobials plays an important role in our ability to raise and sell healthy animals. We must accept our responsibilities for not contributing to increased AMR occurring. This is what the new regulations around prescribing and dispensing of antimicrobials is hoping to address.
So, what does this mean to the average producer? If you have been working routinely with a veterinarian, you should notice minor or no changes. If you have not been associated with a veterinarian, then you should develop a relationship with one so that if the need arises, you will be able to obtain prescriptions for medications that your animals need. There will be no alternate pathway to access these medications.
A prescription from a veterinarian will be required to obtain all antimicrobials. After December 1, 2018 you will no longer be able to access any antimicrobial from a lay distributor, and will be required to have prescriptions dispensed (filled) either by a veterinarian or a pharmacist. By this date, all the labels for these products will indicate that they are by prescription only. In addition, on this date there will be no more claims for growth promotion on these products.
In addition, a veterinary prescription will be required prior to sale when an antimicrobial drug is mixed in livestock feeds. All approved in-feed drugs (including over-the-counter and prescription) are to be included in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency’s Canadian Medicating Ingredient Brochure (CMIB) and can be mixed and sold by a feed mill. Medications to be mixed on farm will also require a prescription, and will only be sold by veterinarians or pharmacists.
Reduction of AMR is of importance to all of us. To accomplish this, it is going to take all of us working together. The use of antimicrobials in animals is a privilege that we must respect if we are going to maintain it.