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Antimicrobials and food production – 4 reasons antibiotics are given to beef cattle

Some Canadians have questions about antibiotic use in farmed animals. In an earlier post, we looked at the science behind the use of hormones in beef cattle. This week, in part one of a three-part series, we’re exploring another hot topic – antibiotics.

First up, an explanation of what antibiotics are, and how and why they are used.

Antibiotic or antimicrobial?

An antimicrobial is any agent that is used to treat microbial infection. An antibiotic is one type of antimicrobial, specifically made from natural microorganisms.

When looking at the safety or issues of using antibiotics in beef cattle, it makes the most sense to discuss the use of antimicrobials as a whole, rather than only antibiotics.

We spoke with Dr. Sherry Hannon, research team lead and veterinary epidemiologist at Feedlot Health Management Services Ltd. to learn more about the use of antimicrobials in feedlot animals.

Sherry explained that there are four main reasons for the use of antimicrobials in feedlots:

#1 To treat disease

“Diseases such as respiratory disease, arthritis and other lameness, abscesses, etc., are effectively treated with antimicrobials in injectable or oral form,” said Sherry.

#2 After surgery or injury

Antimicrobials are used to prevent infection in individual animals after specific events.

#3 As a preventative

Antimicrobials are sometimes used when animals have been exposed to disease, or unfavourable environmental conditions, and are at risk from an outbreak of infectious disease. They are also fed to groups of cattle at specific times to help prevent common diseases.

“Based on clinical field trials, we know that specific groups of animals may already be sick by the time they reach the feedlot after weaning, co-mingling in auction markets, and transport,” explained Sherry. “Antimicrobials help us prevent outbreaks that could spread through the herd.”

#4 To improve growth and production

The use of antimicrobials have historically been used to improve rumen function and enhance growth and production of meat, but this use is declining, and becoming increasingly regulated, due to the risk of antimicrobial resistance. We will discuss antimicrobial resistance further in part two of this series.

When antimicrobials are withheld

When an animal is sick, or at risk from disease, it would be cruel to withhold treatment.

“There are three main health implications when antimicrobials are withheld,” Sherry noted:

    • Poor animal welfare – animals would become sick or die.
    • Greater potential for spreading of disease among animals in a pen.
    • Food safety concerns increase because animals are more likely to have infections when sent to slaughter.

Stay tuned for next week when we will discuss the causes for concern around the use of antimicrobials in beef cattle, and what’s being done to address them.

In the meantime, check out ‘Beef and hormones: what the science says’.

Budget 2017 and agriculture: 5 things you should know

A major mandate for the Alberta Cattle Feeders’ Association, and for the National Cattle Feeders’ Association (NCFA), is to represent our industry to the government. We work hard to keep the lines of communication open, and to provide valuable information about the challenges our members face, and how that affects Canadians.

The recent federal budget, announced on March 22, 2017, is a testament to that dialogue. To learn how the budget has addressed the needs of the agricultural sector, we spoke with Cathy Noble of Noble Path Strategic Consulting. Noble Path provides consulting services to NCFA.

“Not only did this budget demonstrate a renewed interest by the government in the agriculture and agri-food sector, but it also addressed many priority issues upon which NCFA has advocated including labour, research, trade, food safety and infrastructure.” said Cathy.

Five agricultural priorities addressed

Cathy outlined some of the most pressing priorities that were addressed in the 2017 federal budget, and the commitments made:

#1 Temporary foreign workers

The budget includes support for the Temporary Foreign Worker Program and the International Mobility Program, as well as amendments to the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to ensure that those immigration candidates who are most likely to succeed in Canada are granted express entry.

You can read more about why it’s so important for Canadian farmers to have access to temporary foreign workers in ‘Feeding the world: why the agri-food industry must be an economic priority.’

#2 Trade and market access

Reviews of, and investment in, rail service, gateways and ports will help Canadian producers get agri-food products to market. This will be boosted by the elimination of tariffs on many agri-food processing ingredients, strengthening the competitiveness of Canadian agri-food manufacturers both at home and abroad.

More trade commissioners will also be placed in strategic markets abroad to support this investment attraction, and new trade agreements with the European Union and Asia will be a boon for the economy as well.

To learn more about market access for Canadian beef, check out these posts on trade with the European market and Canada’s 58 most important beef export markets.

#3 Food Safety

Investments in core food safety inspection programming delivered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Health Canada, as well as food safety regulations will help build Canada’s global reputation for the highest standards of food safety.

#4 Agricultural science and innovation

The Liberals have committed to investing $70 million over six years to support agricultural discovery science and innovation, with a focus on addressing emerging priorities such as climate change and soil and water conservation.

#5 Agricultural policy framework

The next agricultural policy framework will be launched in 2018 where federal, provincial and territorial governments will renew their commitments to investing in this critical sector. As part of the development of the next framework, governments will consider the ways in which innovation in agriculture can help strengthen the sector as a whole, enhance our value-added exports and create stronger, more well-paying jobs for Canadians.

The full budget can be found on the Government of Canada website. And check out ‘Five feedlot issues to watch out for in 2017’, to see how many made the budget.

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.