Antibiotic resistance

In order to prevent disease outbreaks caused by unsanitary, confined conditions, factory farms routinely use antibiotics as an ingredient in feed. The systemic overuse of antibiotics in agriculture is encouraging the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria or “superbugs” such as Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) that threaten the efficacy of antibiotics used to treat humans. The World Health Organization (WHO) calls for an end to the use of antibiotics in livestock that compromise human medical care. Nevertheless, the use of antibiotics in livestock production in Canada continues. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency's Summary of Feed Drug Clearances lists the drugs approved for use in Canadian livestock.

The Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) 2004 retail meat surveillance report found that in the case of Salmonella, 63 percent of all isolates (strains of bacteria) in samples taken from chickens in Ontario and Québec were resistant to one or more antimicrobials. Ceftiofur resistance was detected in 45 percent and 40 percent of chicken isolates from Ontario and Québec, respectively. For Campylobacter isolates from chicken, 53 percent from Ontario and 81 percent from Québec were resistant to one or more antimicrobials. For Enterococcus isolates from chicken, 98 percent from Ontario and 94 percent from Québec were resistant to one or more antimicrobials.

Read our fact sheet, Antibiotic Resistance Factories for more information.

In 2007 Beyond Factory Farming asked the Federal Government what is done to monitor the health and environmental impacts of antibiotic use in livestock agriculture. Read our questions and the government departments’ responses to the Petition- Environmental contamination of ecosystems from antibiotic use in livestock production, we submitted to the Sustainable Development Commissioner.

In April 2009 the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article critical of the federal government's decision to continue allowing unlimited and undocumented importation of antibiotics for use in intensive livestock production.

Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA)

A deadly strain of Methicillin-Resistant-Staphylococcus bacteria that is antibiotic-resistant. In one year it led to over 100,000 infections and 19,000 deaths in the U.S.

A recent study demonstrated that there is MRSA in intensive hog operations. The following is an excerpt from Our Decrepit Food Factories by food and agriculture journalist Michael Pollan:

This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a study showing that a strain of “MRSA from an animal reservoir has recently entered the human population and is now responsible for more than 20 percent of all MRSA in the Netherlands.” Is this strictly a European problem? Evidently not. According to a study in Veterinary Microbiology, MRSA was found on 45 percent of the 20 pig farms sampled in Ontario, and in 20 percent of the pig farmers. (People can harbor the bacteria without being infected by it.) Thanks to NAFTA, pigs move freely between Canada and the United States. So MRSA may be present on American pig farms; we just haven’t looked yet.

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