let's talk farm animals

Wondering about antibiotics in cattle feed?

 

Jean L Clavelle

Farm Animal Council of Saskatchewan

 

There has been much discussion on antibiotics that go into livestock production and their influence on antibiotic resistance.  Antibiotic resistance is so incredibly complex that not even the scientific community fully understands all of the causative factors.  We don’t have the space to tackle that topic here but I would like to chat about antimicrobial use in cattle production - in particular a group of medications called ionophores - as they are a widely used tool by cattle producers and wildly misunderstood by the general public.

Rumen diagram

The rumen is the main digestive center.

So let’s start from the beginning.  Cattle are considered “ruminants”, a class of animals which have not just one stomach but four (yes you read that right - 4 stomachs!).  Of the four compartments, the Rumen is the first and largest, and the main digestive centre.  The rumen is filled with billions of bacteria that are able to break down grass and other coarse fibrous materials (such as hay and straw) that animals with only one stomach (including humans, chickens and pigs) simply cannot digest.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on October 29th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Education and public awareness
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Conventional versus Organic Milk Production - Do you know the difference?

Organic Milk PIC

In the 2011/12 dairy year 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production was organic

Jean L Clavelle

This weekend an interesting conversation came up about organic milk production.  And it’s shameful to admit but I realized just how little I know about it!  So this started me on a quest to learn more about the differences between organic and conventional milk and thought I would share some of my findings with you.

As previously mentioned I am in support of organic food production even though I do not purchase organic products for myself or my family.  There is obviously a desire on the part of the consumer for organics and so it is important for Canadian producers to meet those needs.  I think there are pros and cons to both production streams and a fit for both in our society.  This post is not written to encourage you to support one or the other only to share information on both types.

For a little background on organic milk in Canada, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada estimated that as of 2012 dairy made up 11% of all organic sales in Canada.  And in the 2011/12 dairy year 218 farms produced 937,137 hectolitres of organic milk which represents 1.19% of total Canadian dairy production.  Significant numbers for sure and one can only assume they will increase.

The first basic difference between organic and conventional production is that all organic dairies must meet the requirements of the Canadian Organic Standards.  Just as in conventional production organic dairies require a balanced feed ration which include substances that are necessary and essential for maintaining the cows’ health, including large amounts of high-quality roughage.  In organic production however all ingredients must also be certified as organic and approved for use by an accredited certifying body. Organic dairy rations can not include GMO feed sources, and must be free of any synthetic herbicides, pesticides fungicides or fertilizers.

No dairy is legally allowed to use artificial hormones to increase milk production in Canada regardless of whether it is organic or conventional.  Bovine somatotropin (bST) is a hormone that occurs naturally in cattle which regulates growth and lactation.  BST has no effect on humans.  Recombinant bST (rbST) is a commercially produced version of the natural hormone and it can increase milk production by 10% to 15% but it has also been related to an increase in the risk of mastitis and infertility and cause lameness in cows, which is why Health Canada has not approved it’s use.  It is important to note that rbST has not been shown to have a negative effect on human health and its use is permitted in other countries (such as the United States), where it is considered safe.

Antibiotics can be used only when a cow is sick. When a cow receives antibiotics, she must be clearly identified and her milk properly discarded for a mandatory withdrawal period (based on veterinary label instructions) until the medication has cleared the cow’s system.  In organic production cows given antibiotics are required to have a longer withdrawal time above that required in conventional production.  Its important to note that each load of milk is tested for the presence of antibiotics prior to it being added to the milk supply regardless of its production method and any violation to this would result in severe fines for both conventional and organic producers.  I would like to note that using antibiotics is important for the welfare of dairy cows regardless of whether it is a conventional or organic operation.  No matter how good the care, some animals will get sick and it is imperative they be treated.

Nutritionally, dieticians say organic milk is not significantly different than conventional milk.  Interestingly enough the nutritional profile of dairy products for both organic and conventional can vary with season, genetics and feed source however all Canadian milk will meet the minimum nutritional profile guaranteed on each carton.

So! I hope this info helps you to understand some of the differences in how organic milk is produced compared to conventional milk.  But whatever you decide to purchase just know that our Canadian milk supply is healthy safe and tasty.

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Posted by Farm and Food Care on August 5th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Dairy cattle,milk,Organics,Uncategorized
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Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Today’s post comes to us courtesy of the Beef Cattle Research Council. To see the full article and others go to BeefResearch.ca

Jean L Clavelle

 

Denmark shows effect of banning growth promoting antimicrobial use in cattle

Antimicrobial resistance has become a highly charged issue.  Headlines appear in the news on a regular basis suggesting that antibiotics are becoming less effective in humans and farmers are to blame.

Some concerns have been raised that antimicrobial use in livestock leads to antimicrobial resistance and that some of the products used in food animals are closely related to antimicrobials that are important in human health. It’s also been questioned whether antimicrobial resistance can be transferred among bacteria, which may reduce effectiveness of drugs used in human medicine.

Of course the Canadian beef industry is also concerned about antimicrobial resistance.  Cattlemen depend on the effectiveness of animal health products, and on consumers’ confidence in how beef is raised and the safety of the beef they consume.  And just like the rest of the society, farmers need human drugs to be effective too.

We’re all in agreement on the seriousness of antimicrobial use and resistance.

Several nations around the world have surveillance programs in place to monitor trends in antimicrobial use and resistance.  In Canada, this is led by the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS). In the United States, surveillance is conducted by the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS).  These programs test for antimicrobial resistance in healthy animals arriving at slaughter plants as well as retail meat samples. In addition, various groups including the Beef Cattle Research Council and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada collect more detailed antimicrobial use and resistance information in a broader range of microbes and locations (e.g. feedlots, manure, soil, water).

To date, scientific surveillance has indicated that:graph 1 antibiotic resistance PIC

  • Resistance to antimicrobials that are most important in human health is extremely uncommon in healthy North American cattle and beef.
  • Multi-drug resistance is similarly low, and is not increasing.
  • In cattle, the vast majority of antimicrobials used are not used in human health at all.

Let’s look more closely at the last point. The vast majority of antimicrobials used in cattle are ionophores.   Ionophores act on rumen microbes; they selectively inhibit methanogenic bacteria and allow beneficial rumen bacteria to make more feed energy available to the animal, thereby improving feed efficiency and weight gain.  Ionophores also prevent diseases like coccidiosis.

Ionophores have no benefit to, nor are they licensed for use in humans. Even if microbes developed resistance to ionophores, this would not make them resistant to classes of antimicrobials that are used in human medicine.

Eliminating antimicrobial growth promotants, including ionophores, in cattle production would substantially reduce the overall use of antimicrobials, but would that reduce concerns about antimicrobial resistance?

Denmark phased out the use of those products in livestock production between 1994 and 1999.  Since 2001, we can see a clear trend of increased use of prescribed veterinary antimicrobials. The decrease in antimicrobial use has happened in the “medium importance” category, antimicrobials rarely used in human medicine anymore.  Without the use of growth promoting antimicrobials, the need for antimicrobials that are important to human health increased. In addition, there has been no clear trend towards decreased antimicrobial resistance in Danish cattle or beef.

Canadian research has repeatedly shown that antimicrobials are used responsibly by Canadian beef producers, and resistance to the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine remains extremely rare in beef cattle. Antimicrobial resistance will continue to be a research priority in Canada’s beef industry to maintain or improve current prudence.

Continued use of antimicrobials of no importance to human health in Canadian beef production will be critical to the future competitiveness of and reduced environmental impacts by Canada’s beef sector due to improved feed efficiency and reduced animal disease.  Furthermore, the consequences of a ban on ionophores in Denmark suggest that discontinuing the use of such products would not lead to lower antimicrobial resistance, and may increase the use of antimicrobials that are important in human medicine.

To learn more about antimicrobial use and resistance in Canadian cattle and beef, visit http://www.beefresearch.ca/research-topic.cfm/antimicrobial-resistance-11

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Posted by FACS on April 28th, 2014 :: Filed under Agriculture Education,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Education and public awareness,Research,Uncategorized
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Perceptions of Antibiotic Free Meat

By Jean L Clavelle

There has been much discussion lately on social media sites regarding marketing and how perceptions can be easily manipulated.  One such topic is that of antibiotic free meat (AFM) where animals produced for food are never treated with antibiotics.  It involves consumer health, animal health, medical drug prescriptions, animal management and more – all highly charged emotional topics.

Much of this discussion revolves around the concern for human health and that antibiotic use in livestock may result in a public health risk due to increased antimicrobial resistance in humans.   The implication being that AFM is a healthier option for humans.  The scientific component is a complicated one and has been debated at length in scientific journals and trade publications not to mention social media.  I won’t discuss it here as its more than one blog can adequately cover in a sitting.

One element that is often overlooked is that of animal welfare and the moral issue of raising AFM although I have seen it used as a marketing (dare I say) gimmick by many retail and food services organizations.  Antibiotics are products used by both humans and animals to prevent and treat disease illness and suffering.  We had previously discussed the definition of animal welfare (http://www.letstalkfarmanimals.ca/2013/07/25/do-you-know-what-animal-welfare-really-means/) and an important element of welfare is freedom from pain injury or disease by rapid diagnosis and treatment.  If we examine the exact nature of an AFM production system would it be considered inhumane?  Under this system animals cannot be treated for illness or disease if they are to be sold into this market.  Which is fine.  Until an animal falls ill.  And it will happen just as you or I might succumb to an illness despite our best efforts which can only be treated with antibiotics.  Good animal welfare and animal management dictates that sick animals be treated or if that’s not possible euthanized.  Just like we would want ourselves and our loved ones to receive treatment.

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Posted by FACS on October 28th, 2013 :: Filed under Animal care,Animal cruelty,Animal health,Animal welfare,antibiotics,Beef cattle,Canada,Social media,Uncategorized
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