Charting a Future for Antimicrobials on the Farm

How will Canada’s animal agriculture industry be utilizing antimicrobial drugs, including antibiotics, five years from now?

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Tim McAllister doesn’t have all the answers, but he does offer insights on how the industry can more effectively use antibiotics, assure the public it’s working to manage resistance, and help safeguard the drug’s ability to protect human health.

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s Tim McAllister says rapid and accurate diagnostic testing is needed to ensure antimicrobials are the best choice when managing animal health.

As the Canadian government works to develop new rules governing antimicrobial use, McAllister, a ruminant nutrition and microbiology scientist, believes the agriculture industry will need to take a hard look at animal health management practices. Speaking earlier this month at the FarmSmart conference in Guelph, Ontario, McAllister said Europe’s decision to adopt a board brush approach that basically bans all sub-therapeutic use of antimicrobials is the wrong approach.

He would like to see North America take a more informed, science-based approach that looks for alternatives to using Category 1 antibiotics – the most important for human health – in agriculture.

To make those decisions, McAllister says government and industry need a better understanding of how much antimicrobials are actually being used in animal agriculture. “Once we have a better handle on antimicrobial use in Canada, not only the volume but the types of antimicrobials, then we can look at making adjustments in a manner that will improve the prudency of antimicrobial use without threatening animal health.”

In this interview, McAllister also states that some industry practices have to change. “We can’t be using antimicrobials as a crutch or an alternative to good management practices,” he says, adding that the industry must first focus its efforts on animal husbandry standards, including proper nutrition.

Antimicrobial resistance not only poses a threat to human health, but it can also render antimicrobials ineffective in animals, says McAllister. “So it’s also in the interest of livestock production to make sure that we maintain efficacy of those antimicrobials.”

Rapid and accurate diagnostic testing is also needed to ensure antimicrobials are the best choice when managing animal health, says McAllister. He notes that the cattle industry, for example, is working to develop ‘shoot-side’ diagnostic technology “so that we can identify the causative organism and administer the suitable antibiotic to control the infection.”

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