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Antimicrobials on the feedlot: Why animal care should matter to consumers

There’s a great deal of confusion and misinformation out there about the use of antimicrobials – of which antibiotics are just one type — in food animals.

In a recent blog series we explored why antimicrobials are used, what the concerns are, and what safeguards are in place. This week we met with John Schooten of Schooten and Sons Custom Feedyards to get the perspective from someone on the ground. We asked John to tell us how, when and why cattle feeders use antimicrobials in their operations.

John explained that their top priority is maintaining the best health and welfare for their cattle. “We use a combination of appropriate disease prevention and control measures, and prompt treatment of illness, injury and disease,” he said.

John Schooten and Sons Custom Feedlots

Herd Health Management

Every feedlot has a strategy for disease prevention, rapid diagnosis and effective treatment of illness in their cattle. This would typically include daily monitoring, and maintenance of accurate animal management and health records.

Because cattle are kept together in pens in feedlots, they can be at an increased risk for the transmission of disease. When you add in stressors, such as weaning and transportation, co-mingling at auction markets and weather issues, that adds to the risk.

“Antimicrobials are then sometimes necessary for medical or preventative purposes,” said John. “For example, Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD) is a leading cause of sickness and mortality in the beef feedlot industry. Early treatment decreases the likelihood of cattle dying or suffering long-term symptoms, and using antibiotics, when appropriate, is the humane thing to do.

Veterinary Supervision

All feedlots work closely with their veterinarian when it comes to disease prevention and herd health. “A licensed, practicing veterinarian will have the responsibility for making clinical judgments regarding the health of the cattle and the need for medical treatment,” explained John.

Food Safety

Feedlot operators must adhere to strict standards of quality assurance, and their compliance is monitored. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) regulations specify withdrawal times that must have elapsed from the last dose of antibiotics (and other drug products such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatories or vaccines) before the animal can be sent for processing. This ensures that all beef is antibiotic free.

“Feedlots use antimicrobials prudently to ensure the animals’ health and welfare,” continued John. “Feedlots’ concerns about antimicrobial resistance are actively addressed through very limited use of Category One drugs, ongoing research, regulatory requirements, veterinary oversight and antimicrobial stewardship practices.”

Should we be raising cattle without the use of antimicrobials?

“Without the use of antimicrobials, the outcome for animal welfare is very negative,” said John. “Animals get sick, suffer and die.”

Our producers are committed to providing safe, wholesome beef to consumers around the world, and raising healthy cattle is an important part of that process.

There is more information about the use of antimicrobials in food animals in the earlier posts in this series:

From oil and gas to bovine gas, measuring GHG emissions is an important part of setting targets

We know that livestock contribute to GHG emissions. What we don’t know for sure, is exactly how, or to what degree. In this blog post we’re taking a look at a recent study designed to close some of the gaps in our knowledge.

Read more

Quiz: how has cattle feeding contributed to 150 years of Canadian prosperity?

2017 is a momentous year for Canadians, as we celebrate our nation’s 150th birthday. But did you know that the Canadian beef industry has been around for about that long too?

As we move toward Canada 150, we thought we’d have a little fun with a look at how the cattle feeding industry has contributed to Canada over the last century and a half. Take this quiz to find out how well you know your feedlot history:

Canada’s come a long way in 150 years – and so has the beef industry! You can learn more about the history of Alberta’s feedlots in ‘From Start to Finish: An Illustrated History of Cattle Feeding in Alberta’ (PDF).

 

If you enjoyed this quiz, you might also enjoy this earlier one from our blog: ‘How well do you know your beef?’

Should Canadians be concerned about antibiotics in food animals?

Last week in part one of this three-part series, we explained why and how antimicrobials (of which antibiotics are one type) are used in beef cattle. This week we’re exploring the causes for concern over that use.

We continue our conversation with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd.

How long do antimicrobials stay in an animal’s system?

There are many different antimicrobials labelled for veterinary use in cattle in Canada. Each is classified according to its uses, its effect on bacteria and the way it works.

“As part of the label, a ‘withdrawal period’ – a period of time before which the animals are not allowed to enter the food chain – is specified. Some antimicrobials have a zero day withdrawal period (they are eliminated from the body within a very short period of time), while others are known to stay in the body for much longer periods,” Sherry explained.

Causes for concern in the use of antimicrobials

Sherry explained that there are two main concerns related to the use of antimicrobials:

1. Antimicrobial residues

A residue is a remnant of the antimicrobial molecule itself or a degradation product of that molecule, left in the animal after harvest.

“For each antimicrobial, a level of residues (usually extremely low) has been deemed to be acceptable for human health through rigorous safety trials,” said Sherry.

“Therefore, meat that goes for sale to people must be at or below that level. The withdrawal period for each antimicrobial defines the amount of time that must have elapsed from the last dose before an animal can be harvested for meat, thus ensuring any possible residues are below the acceptable level and safe for human consumption.

As an added step of food safety oversight, meat at processing plants is regularly tested for residues on an ongoing basis as part of quality assurance and compliance monitoring.”

2. Antimicrobial resistance

According to Sherry, of greater concern than residues is the issue of antimicrobial resistance, which for many reasons, has become a global health issue. As the use of antimicrobials continues, for people and animals, there is increasing development of bacteria that are resistant to them.

“There is a potential for the presence of bacteria on meat or in the environment which carry resistance genes for particular antimicrobials, and this relates to the possibility that these bacteria could multiply or infect people,” she said.

The role of continued research and monitoring

“The above concerns are actively addressed through continued research, regulatory requirements, veterinary oversight, antimicrobial stewardship practices, and producers’ commitment to provide safe and nutritious beef,” noted Sherry. “In addition, appropriate cooking of beef further protects against these concerns by inactivating any residues present, or by killing any viable microorganisms,” she stressed.

The Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) monitors and describes antimicrobial resistance (and some use) in retail meat, on farm and in animal and human populations.

Stay tuned for part three of this series, in which we’ll discuss how food safety is ensured when antibiotics are used in cattle – and ongoing changes to regulation.

In the meantime, check out part one, ‘Antimicrobials and food production: 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle’.

Carbon pricing and the beef industry: how will Canadians feel the effects?

Businesses across Alberta are bracing for the new carbon tax, wondering what effects the levy will have on their bottom line. So, when Jennifer Winter joins us at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference to speak about the cost of emissions pricing, the interest will be high. Jennifer is the director of energy and environmental policy at the University of Calgary, and we asked her for a few insights into the potential costs for the beef industry.

Jennifer Winter at the Alberta Beef Industry ConferenceJennifer explained that, since 2007, emissions from large emitters have been subject to a levy, but starting in January 2017, this system changed to a broad-based carbon tax on emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels.

“This means that, across Alberta, individuals and companies are going to be paying more for gasoline, diesel, natural gas and other fossil fuels,” said Jennifer. “For the agricultural sector, farm fuel is exempt, and so the impact will mainly be felt through natural gas price increases and indirectly through increased pricing from suppliers as they respond to the carbon tax.”

“The impacts will depend on how much fossil fuels each operation uses, and it is possible the carbon tax will make some businesses unprofitable,” continued Jennifer.

In addition to the exemption on farm fuels, the government has also placed a cap on the price of electricity.

How the carbon tax will affect the beef on Canadians’ plates

The most likely cost to Canadians will be an increase in emissions-intensive goods and services, such as gasoline. As for beef? Time will tell how much of a price increase Canadians will see at the store, or whether supply will be affected.

Check out ‘5 feedlot issues to watch for in 2017’, to learn about other issues that could affect Alberta’s beef industry this year.

Former Edmonton Sun columnist Danny Hooper on the evolution of the beef industry

When you think about the beef that’s served on your table, it might seem that the product hasn’t changed much during your lifetime. What has changed, though, is the business of beef production.

With the annual Alberta Beef Industry Conference approaching, from February 15-17, we thought it would be interesting to talk with long-time event master of ceremonies, Danny Hooper, to see what changes he has observed over the years.

As well as being conference MC for over a decade, Danny is a former page 6 columnist for the Edmonton Sun, a recording artist, motivational speaker, fundraising auctioneer and one-time host of the 790 CFCW morning show. He also comes from a farming background, having grown up on a cattle ranch in Tomahawk, Alberta.

Changing times have brought changing issues

We asked Danny what issues have come to the forefront during his time with the conference. “When I did my first year, it was right in the middle of the BSE (Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy) crisis,” he said. Since then, I’ve seen a succession of different issues. Tech is a big one – it’s interesting to see how technology changes the industry every year. Country of Origin Labelling has been another big topic. Other issues I’ve seen include the economy; the way that changing demographics, as well as social and cultural norms, affect beef producers; politics; regulation and more.”

Food safety in Canada

Danny also said that food safety has been a constant theme at the conference, and he’s always been impressed at the high standards followed by the industry. “I recently returned from a three-week trip to Bali,” he said, “and that was a real eye opener. You can’t drink the tap water, even in a nice hotel, and you’re always wondering about the safety of the food you’re served. In Canada, you don’t have to give food safety much of a thought.”

The adaptability of Canadian beef producers

As consumer demands change, Danny noted, the industry has been able to adapt and respond. “There’s so much information out there, both good and bad – and a lot of misinformation – and it travels at the speed of light. It can affect consumer choices very quickly, and at the other end of the scale, the producers,” he said. “Food producers have to respond, and often have to respond quite quickly, and I think overall they’ve done a very good job of it.”

Danny concluded our conversation with a couple of observations about the industry:

“To me, it’s always an eye opener what big business this is,” he commented, “and all the issues that the producers do face. I don’t think people are aware of that.”

“Another thing I’ve found interesting through the years is the custom branding. A lot of the small independent producers are doing a really good job of branding and marketing their farms and their products.”

To learn more about the consumer trends that affect the beef industry, check out last week’s blog post: ‘Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table.’ And stay tuned for more from conference speakers in the upcoming weeks.

Changing demographics mean changes at the dinner table

What’s on the table for dinner tonight? Thirty years ago, the answer would probably have been beef, chicken, pork or fish. And it would have been prepared at home. But what about today? Consumer preferences have changed – and that’s the reality now facing the beef industry.

The Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association commissioned a research review to better understand the market forces driving demand for beef and other proteins. Digital marketing agency Communicatto was engaged to gather and summarize existing research.

Communicatto president Doug Lacombe will be speaking on the topic at the upcoming Alberta Beef Industry Conference. He sat down with us to share the highlights of their findings. 

“The research shows that people are eating differently in 2017 than they were 20 or 30 years ago. The beef industry needs to understand what mealtime looks like today and why eating habits have changed in order to adapt to meet new consumer demands,” he said.

Today’s meals are different, because today’s Canadians are different

Doug explained that two prominent factors are affecting Canadians’ food choices:

1. Changing demographics

“Our population demographics have changed markedly in the last 30 years. In metropolitan areas, we are approaching the 46 per cent immigrant level, so food choices are driven by different culinary habits, cultural habits and so on. With those kind of profound societal changes, why would we think eating habits would stay the same?”

2. Today’s fast-paced lifestyle

“With two working parents and today’s busy lifestyles, there is an increase in pre-prepared, or semi-prepared meals, a variety of convenience options and dining out. Stopping at the store to pick up a rotisserie chicken on the way home from work is just one of many easy, affordable ways to provide a quick meal.”

Why this matters to the beef industry

The concerns and demands of Canadians, and particularly the Millennial generation, are driving the market, and a successful industry will be one that adapts. Many people consider beef to be a special occasion food and erroneously believe it to be a less healthy choice compared to other proteins.

During his talk at the conference, Doug will be sharing more details about Canadians’ food choices, and the attitudes and perceptions that drive them. He will also look at what this means for beef producers, how they should respond, and what they can do to answer concerns or alter negative perceptions.

“If the farm isn’t supplying what consumers want,” Doug noted, “then we have a disconnect between supply and demand. We need to ask how the industry can cooperate along the entire supply chain, and innovate to meet changing consumer demand.”

To learn more about how the eating habits of Canadians impact the beef industry, check out last week’s post on the need for consumers and the beef industry to find common ground.

You can learn more about what’s in store at the Alberta Beef Industry Conference in the event program.