Overuse of antibiotics in Canadian agriculture is undermining human and environmental health

Broad-based public interest groups are calling upon the Canadian government to end the widespread use of antibiotics as growth promoters in livestock production- a practice that jeopardizes the effectiveness of antibiotics in treating human illness, promotes the development of resistant microbes and enables industrial operations to raise livestock in otherwise untenable conditions.

Beyond Factory Farming, the National Farmers Union (NFU), and the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment are calling on the federal government to phase out the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock production in Canada, as recommended by the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy (CIELAP).

“Growth promoters are a tool of large industrialised feedlots,” the NFU’s Terry Boehm said. “Subtherapeutic antibiotics are contributing to the decline of the family farm with many family farmers feeling they need to use these measures to compete. Nothing could be farther from the truth as many markets would open up to them if these additives were not used.”

The sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics is commonplace among industrial livestock producers. And although consumers are purchasing foods produced without antibiotics in ever greater numbers, Beyond Factory Farming’s Cathy Holtslander insists Canadian policy makers must protect public health and the environment by phasing out their use.

“People are looking for meat from farms where growth promoters are not used,” Holtslander said. “They want to safeguard their own health through consumer choices, but also recognize the need for a federal policy response to protect the environment and public health from the impacts of these harmful industrial livestock practices.”

“Antibiotics are the crown jewels of medicine,” Holtslander said. “Giving daily doses of these life-savers only to enable over-crowded livestock living conditions is a recipe for a future of superbugs and useless drugs in human populations.”

Antibiotics have been employed in livestock production for over 50 years, administered in animal feed to prevent disease and promote growth. In the United States alone, more than 25 million pounds of antibiotics and related drugs are administered annually to animals for non-therapeutic reasons – more than eight times the three million pounds used to treat disease in humans. Researchers estimate anywhere from 25 to 75 per cent of these antibiotics are released into the environment, many of which are the same as those prescribed to treat human and animal diseases. This overuse has led to the development of bacteria resistant to antibiotics. These resistant bacteria make treatment of sick humans and animals more difficult, resulting in fewer effective antibiotics to prevent and treat infections.

“The increasing incidence of resistant bacteria is a growing burden on our health system,” CAPE’s Art Wiebe said. “It is costing us lives and it is costing us money. We cannot afford to ignore the situation any longer.” Earlier this year the Canadian Institute for Environmental Law and Policy released Reducing and Phasing Out the Use of Antibiotics and Hormone Growth Promoters in Canadian Agriculture, a report highlighting the flaws inherent in the overuse of antibiotics among Canada’s industrial livestock producers and the consequences of this practice for human and environmental health. The report also recommends a roadmap Ottawa can follow to phase out the use of antibiotics among livestock producers.

The recommendations of CIELAP’s report are endorsed by the three organizations quoted in this release.

Please follow this link to view the report.