From the Editor: September 2009
By Kristy Nudds
A vocal critic of the Canadian poultry industry (and also one of its
biggest buyers of chicken) believes that “In the race to lower costs
and increase profits, producers have forgotten about quality.”
A vocal critic of the Canadian poultry industry (and also one of its biggest buyers of chicken) believes that “In the race to lower costs and increase profits, producers have forgotten about quality.”
Jean Pierre Léger, president of St-Hubert, a chain of barbeque chicken restaurants in Quebec and eastern Ontario, spoke with one of our writers about some of the practices he believes negatively impact quality, and could possibly alter consumer perception.
In the article “An Industry Leader’s Provocative Words” on page 32 of this issue, Léger doesn’t hold much back. His words may not be easy to read and you may not agree with all or any of what he says – but I felt it was an opportunity to hear from someone who buys large volumes of product.
One of Léger’s biggest criticisms is the prophylactic use of antibiotics in broilers. Although he doesn’t believe that farming practices are necessarily to blame for human resistance to antibiotics, he is thinking of how his customers might view it. He states in the article that “If we wait until our clients start pressuring us, it will be a little too late. It’s better if we start changing now, in order to do it in an orderly fashion.”
As a businessman, Léger, of course, is always thinking of the bottom line and customer loyalty. Two reports released in recent months lend credence to his concern about consumer perception, and they both call for more government oversight into food production practices.
An article entitled “The Perils of Poultry” in the July issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) cites data the CMAJ calls “alarming” from the Public Health Agency of Canada revealing the link between the off-label use of cephalosporin antibiotics in hatcheries and human resistance to this class of drugs.
The article says that the debate surrounding antibiotic use in food animals and the effects on human health surrounds surveillance data from the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance (CIPARS) which “strongly indicates that cephalosporin resistance in humans is moving in lockstep with the use of the drug in poultry production.”
CIPARS has been tracking antimicrobial-resistant bacteria on farms and in food since 2002 and is funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada. The group has released various reports since that “reinforce the suspicion that ceftiofur use in chicken hatcheries is helping drive resistance to cephalosporins.” Also discussed in the article is the perceived lack of government regulation over veterinary antibiotic usage. Interestingly, there was no mention of how physicians prescribe the drugs.
The long-awaited report into the 2008 listeriosis outbreak was also released in July. The report basically stated that the ministries involved couldn’t figure out who was truly responsible for food safety and foodborne illness and that Canada’s chief public health officer should be given a greater role during outbreaks of food-borne illness.
The common theme in these reports is that public health and food production should be more closely linked. It isn’t entirely out of the question that agriculture may someday join Health Canada’s portfolio. If that happens, the landscape in which poultry and eggs are grown could look very different indeed.