Roy Maxwell 2014-02-25 00:55:24
Drug Addiction in Agriculture As i sit applauding from a front row seat, the Canadian poultry industry will officially end the preventive use of Category 1 antibiotics on May 15, 2014. For parent breeder flocks, the date is May 15, 2015. This new policy does not include Category 1 antibiotics used to treat diseases. Category 1 antibiotics are of concern to human health agencies because they belong to the same family of drugs that human medicine depends on, especially when treating some very difficult cases. They contribute to the global problem of bacterial resistance to antibiotics. These antibiotic-resistant bacteria are often called “superbugs” and they have become a serious and worsening problem, particularly in hospitals and nursing homes. My own interest in the subject stems from a personal and professional interest in this issue. My father was allergic to penicillin and needed to wear a medical bracelet because if he was given penicillin, it could have killed him. He also had a problem with eating meat, which was an ongoing frustration for him because he was a meat and potatoes kind of guy. Sometimes, he broke out in a nasty and itchy rash, while other times he did not. Eating meat was always a gamble. Dad wasn’t a scientist and neither am i, but between the use of penicillin in agriculture and his rashes after consuming meat, we concluded it was more than a coincidence. I understand that antibiotic residues and antimicrobial resistance are two separate issues, but, nonetheless, it was my father’s penicillin allergy that piqued my interest in the use of antibiotics in agriculture. My professional concern began when, early in my poultry industry career, one of my first activities was to tour a feed mill. As part of the tour, i was shown the “drug room” and when i saw a bin marked “penicillin,” i thought of my dad. In the fall of 2013 – almost a quarter of a century later – i was delighted when the Ontario Broiler Hatching egg and Chick Commission (OBHeCC) invited me to meet with four members of the Ontario Hatcheries association who sit on the OBHeCC board of directors. We spoke for an hour and i learned a lot, including the fact that Ontario hatcheries have already stopped using antibiotics as a precautionary measure to prevent disease in the Ontario chicken industry. Therefore, May 15 is going to be just another day at the hatchery and on the farm – for Ontario chicken growers, at least. By 2009, most Ontario hatcheries had stopped using Category 1 antibiotics for prevention and no major companies have used them since 2011. Hatcheries focused on how to control inputs, and they studied the root causes of dependency on antibiotics. They recognized that chick health and mortality can stem from a bacteria problem in the breeder flock, the hatching egg, or the barn environment. They began by encouraging hatching egg producers and u.s. suppliers to provide a consistently higher quality egg from domestic and imported breeder flocks. This required more diligence regarding biosecurity, handling and sanitation. Then they focused on the hatchery process – egg transportation, storage, incubation, and sanitation methods and products used in all of these processes. Issues such as cross-contamination were effectively negated. Attention to detail and introduction of HaCCP principles at hatcheries became the norm. Hatcheries agree that growing chickens without antibiotics is more difficult and requires more care. However, that is what is happening now, and hatcheries report that chicken farmers have embraced the hatcheries’ decision to supply only Category 1 antibiotic-free chicks. The hatcheries say this success story has not been without its trials, and they encourage chicken farmers to work with their hatchery and look to veterinarians for alternative ways to curb the spreading of disease in a flock. They say the goal is for everyone to find solutions that will reduce the use of all categories of antibiotics. Meanwhile, Ontario chicken farmers continue to accept chicks without antibiotics. As a result of information, education and better brooder management, the hatcheries say the farmers have adapted with great success. I asked OBHeCC general manager Bob Guy why he thinks the hatcheries committed themselves to ending the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in the chicken industry. He replied, “ending this practice is simply the right thing to do.” i liked his answer a lot and my father would have, too.
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