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Antibiotic resistance isn’t futile

Jess Campbell for Progressive Dairyman Published on 31 March 2017
Getting injections ready

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is not a new subject. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 480,000 people globally develop multi-drug-resistant TB each year, and drug resistance is beginning to complicate the fight against HIV and malaria.

But what does AMR have to do with dairy farmers and their products? Perhaps more than you might think.



Issue at hand

To understand how AMR affects the dairy industry, it is important to first understand the problem.

For approximately the last 70 years, humans have used antibiotics to treat infectious diseases. These antibiotics have worked very well, improving not only our health but also our overall lifespan and quality of life.

While we are living longer, healthier lives due to antibiotic use, generally, new antibiotic creation has been minimal at best and nonexistent at worst. Over time, infections that antibiotics are designed to impede or kill have adapted to those antibiotics and are no longer threatened by them.

This leads to statistics such as those from the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that each year in the U.S., at least 2 million people become infected with bacteria resistant to antibiotics, and at least 23,000 people die each year because of these infections.

AMR is not only present in humans but also in food animals. Antibiotics are used extensively in the dairy industry to treat – or in some cases, prevent – infections such as mastitis.


Depending on the size of your herd, you may have already treated one of your animals for mastitis this week. This infection is a common issue for dairy producers, and treatment with antibiotics has become just as common.

Although there have not been any widespread indications of AMR when it comes to treating mastitis, that doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. Every time an animal is treated with antibiotics, there is an increased risk of AMR development.

Yet leaving an animal untreated is not an option. Therefore, antibiotic stewardship in the dairy industry is incredibly important.

Producers as stewards

Anna Maddison is the senior media relations adviser serving Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada. In an email to Progressive Dairyman, she explained what it means for dairy producers to practice antibiotic stewardship.

“Antimicrobial stewardship is the practice of minimizing the emergence of antimicrobial resistance by using antibiotics only when necessary, and for only as long as necessary, to optimize outcomes while minimizing adverse effects."

"The principles of antimicrobial stewardship apply wherever antimicrobial agents are used, including human medicine, agriculture and veterinary use, and in the home and community."


"Overuse and inappropriate use of antibiotics generally leads to increased antibiotic resistance. That is why antimicrobial stewardship actions are underway to help promote the proper use of antibiotics.”

The importance of practicing antibiotic stewardship on your farm cannot be understated. Maddison went on to explain why it’s important for producers to take AMR seriously by making antibiotic stewardship a priority.

“It helps ensure that these drugs are used only when necessary, and to institute good animal husbandry and production practices to have good infection prevention and control measures. Antibiotic stewardship also helps to make sure that, when needed, these drugs are used in a prudent manner by consulting advice from veterinarians to make sure of long-term effectiveness."

"Plus, it increases public trust and increases consumer confidence in the Canadian food supply, both locally and internationally.”

As a dairy producer, there are different ways to increase your operation’s antibiotic stewardship. The first – and arguably, the most obvious – is to put in place an effective infection prevention strategy that reduces your overall reliance on antibiotic use.

If you’ve seen an increase in antibiotic use on your farm, it’s time to take a hard look at what’s causing the diseases you’re always treating and begin working with your veterinarian to solve the problem.

Doing so will not only keep your herd healthier, it will also save you a lot of money on both vet bills and drug costs.

Another tactic is to work with your veterinarian to decide if a situation you’re facing requires antibiotics at all. While you may have used drugs to treat or prevent an illness in the past, there might be an alternative that’s just as effective you may not have known about before.

Most producers understand the importance of reading drug labels and following instructions on how and when to administer the drug. Following those label instructions is also a way to maintain or increase your farm’s antibiotic stewardship.

Finally, talking about it with other farmers is a great way to share what you do and to learn how other producers are fostering antibiotic stewardship on their farms.

The future of AMR

As AMR continues to be a top-of-mind issue across the globe, dairy producers should expect changes to be made regarding the use of antibiotics on farms. In July of 2016, some proposed changes to the Food and Drug Regulations were pre-published in the Canada Gazette, Part I. While there are a few proposed changes that would not affect dairy producers, there are a few that certainly will.

Maddison spoke openly about the proposed changes that will affect dairy farmers, one being about controlling the own-use importation of veterinary drugs.

“With this regulatory change, food animal producers would no longer be able to import unapproved veterinary drugs for use in their own animals unless the drug has been determined by Health Canada to not pose a risk to public health and food safety.”

Another proposed change involves facilitating access to low-risk veterinary health products as additional health management tools for livestock production.

“The proposed changes would create a new regulatory pathway to allow for the importation and sale of veterinary health products for use in food-producing and companion animals. Under this proposal, producers, veterinarians and animal owners will be able to access new veterinary health products to manage the health of their animals.”

Maddison also mentioned some additional measures that Health Canada will be taking to strengthen Canada’s contribution to battling AMR.

“Health Canada is collaborating with stakeholders to undertake two important measures aimed at promoting the prudent use of medically important antimicrobials in animals, including removing growth promotion claims and production claims from the labels of medically important antimicrobial drugs, and strengthening veterinary oversight of antibiotic use in animals by changing their current non-prescription (over-the-counter) status to prescription.”

Fighting AMR is a collaborative effort between veterinarians and the producers they work with. Maddison said the government is relying on veterinarians to spearhead this initiative.

“Health Canada considers having appropriate veterinary oversight to be a key measure towards promoting the prudent use of antimicrobials and minimizing the development and spread of antimicrobial resistance."

"Veterinarians who prescribe for animals under their care possess the scientific and clinical training to assess the health of animals, diagnose disease conditions, determine the need for antibiotic treatment and choose the most appropriate course of treatment.”

AMR is a global issue that affects us all. Working closely with your veterinarian and being smart about how and when you use antibiotics on your farm will help support the fight.  end mark

PHOTO: Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada has a strong interest in preventing antimicrobial resistance. Staff photo. 

Jess Campbell
  • Jess Campbell

  • Freelance writer
  • Strathroy, Ontario