The concern, as we know, has been over the development of antibiotic resistant strains being transferred to humans, as well as the possibility that antibiotics will no longer work against many common infections in the future.
But it’s not just a concern amongst consumers and healthcare providers anymore – now investment bankers are sounding the alarm. A large investment group, Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return (FAIRR) and the responsible investment charity ShareAction announced in early April that they have launched an “engagement campaign” with 10 of the biggest restaurant chains in the U.S. and the U.K. to end the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics important to human health in their global meat and poultry supply chains (see page 6). In a press release, the groups state they are “responding to warnings from the World Health Organization (WHO) that irresponsible antibiotics practices are leading the world towards a “post-antibiotic era” where routine operations will no longer be possible and many infections no longer treatable.” With $1 trillion in investments at stake, the investors feel not addressing antibiotic use in livestock is a risk that needs to be mitigated, now.
Many of the targeted companies in the U.S. have made some sort of public “commitment” and given a timeline for buying poultry and other meat products raised without the use of antibiotics (RWA) from their suppliers. Canadian companies have also made similar commitments.
However, the RWA classification is not the same in the U.S., Canada, and the EU. In Canada, the RWA definition set forth by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) requires that for a product to be labeled RWA, no antibiotics (used for prevention of disease or to treat sick birds), ionophores or coccidiostats are allowed. Yet, in the U.S. and Europe, coccidiostats are allowed in RWA protocols, giving producers in these countries an unfair advantage.
To level the playing field, the Chicken Farmers of Canada (CFC) is currently working on a strategy to further reduce the preventative use of antibiotics of human importance, yet allow the preventative use of ionophores and chemical coccidiostats, which are not used in human medicine. CFC says the strategy responds to the call for reduced antibiotic use in poultry while maintaining antibiotic availability and efficacy for the benefit of animal health.
It calls for elimination of the preventative use of Category II and III antibiotics (preventative use for Category I antibiotics came into effect last year), yet allows an antibiotic to be used to treat acute disease. CFC would like to see the regulatory hurdle of allowing alternative products into the Canadian marketplace diminished, and for these products to have efficacy claims – something the CFIA currently does not allow. Also, CFC plans to incorporate the costs of using alternative products into the live price wants to harmonize the definition between the RWA in Canada versus the U.S.
It will take an industry–wide commitment to achieve this goal. This issue features two articles on the management changes and challenges associated with reducing or eliminating the use of antibiotics (see pages 10 and 21). Achieving the goal can be done, but management of the birds and the barn will be key and the cooperation between producer, veterinarian and nutritionist paramount.