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How are you enforcing your Category 1 usage policy?

The policy has been made a mandatory element of Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety Program – which is mandatory and enforced in all 10 provinces with annual audits and has been granted full recognition from the Federal-Provincial and Territorial governments. A sign-off has also been put on the flock sheet (a document that is sent to the processor and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency with each flock) and on the hatchery invoices to indicate that each flock has not been given Category I antibiotics for prevention.

Monitoring will be performed via industry antibiotic use surveillance as well as continued government surveys through the Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS), of the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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How are you addressing the use of Category I Antibiotics?

Chicken Farmers of Canada has collaborated with industry stakeholders to develop a policy which eliminates the preventative use of Category I antibiotics in Canadian chicken production. This approach reinforces the commitment of the Canadian chicken industry to proactively manage responsible antibiotic use.

The preventive use of Category I antibiotics is no longer allowed for use in chickens as of May 15, 2014.

Recent government reports demonstrate the success of this industry initiative. Surveillance has shown a reduced use of Category I antibiotics as well as a decreasing resistance in Salmonella from chickens on farms, at slaughter and at retail on a national level.

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Are Category 1 antibiotics completely banned?

The policy we’ve put in place addresses the preventive use of Category I antibiotics such as Excenel® and Baytril® and does not impact the therapeutic use of Category I drugs for disease treatment.

In order to maintain bird health and welfare, therapeutic use will remain an option when necessary and prescribed by a veterinarian.

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What are Category I antibiotics and why are they important?

Antibiotics are ranked by Health Canada based on their importance to human medicine, ranging from Categories I to Category IV. Category I antibiotics are those considered to be of the highest importance to humans: they are essential for serious human infections as there are few or no alternatives available. They are considered to be antibiotics used as a “last resort” in human medicine.

In the poultry sector, Category I antibiotics such as cephalosporins (CeftiofurTM) were used at times at the hatchery level to help prevent E. coli infections and first week mortality of chicks.

Because Category I antibiotics are those considered most important to human health, the chicken industry took steps to significantly reduce the level of cephalosporin use. As of May 15, 2014, their preventive use was no longer permitted in the Canadian chicken sector.

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Why do you use antibiotics?

Antibiotics play an important role in providing a safe product for consumers, as well as in poultry health and welfare. Antibiotics help to maintain healthy birds, thereby ensuring a safe food supply for consumers and to prevent any potential food safety problems.There continues to be widespread debate within the scientific community as to the effect and impact of antibiotic use within agriculture because it is a complex interaction between food safety, animal health and animal welfare and there remain many unanswered questions to find answers to. Chicken Farmers of Canada supports the responsible use of antibiotics that have been approved by the Veterinary Drugs Directorate of Health Canada, in order to ensure food safety, animal health and animal welfare. The Canadian chicken industry is committed to controlling, monitoring and reducing antibiotic use in order to preserve effective treatment options. This situation is one that we are constantly monitoring and improving.

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How do you feel about it?

We support only the most responsible use of antibiotics and we are being proactive to manage antibiotic use in order to provide continued confidence to consumers and government. Chicken Farmers of Canada understands that consumers and others have concerns regarding antibiotic use and resistance, and we take our responsibility very seriously. Chicken Farmers of Canada has:

  • Implemented a sector-wide strategy to control, monitor and reduce antimicrobial use where possible.
  • Created a working group with representatives from throughout the chicken industry to examine ways to reduce antibiotic usage.
  • Reviewed best management practices to define antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance trends.
  • Worked with government to create an on-farm surveillance program for chicken, which will complement the current data from processors and retailers.
  • Initiated an education campaign to farmers and industry stakeholders on the issues of antibiotic use and resistance.
  • Invested in antibiotic alternative research, in collaboration with the industry stakeholders, to the tune of over $2.2 million which has been matched to over $10.8 million.

We also support the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, which works to develop antibiotic use guidelines for poultry veterinarians and the pathogen-reduction work being undertaken at the processing plants across the country. The intent is to demonstrate that antimicrobial use is being done responsibly, appropriately and safely.

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Have you put your money where your mouth is?

We have indeed. Chicken Farmers of Camada and the rest of the poultry industry have invested over $2.2 million in antibiotic alternatives research over the past few years. This has been leveraged to over $10.8 million. Among the research areas that received this funding were the study of antibiotics and their impact, the search for possible replacement treatments and much more. This funding represents nearly half of all research funding from the poultry industry. In addition to this, industry has spent a significant amount of money and resources developing and implementing the food safety program, working with government experts, and organizing the industry to discuss the potential for further use reduction. Research and innovation, along with the discovery and use of new products, are important ways in which the whole chicken industry can work toward addressing the challenges of reducing antibiotic use without losing them altogether as part of our credible food safety and animal welfare management practices.

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Are antibiotics used to promote growth?

Many antibiotics have been misnamed “growth promotants”. This highlights one of the challenges facing the chicken industry, misinformation. Antibiotics do reduce mortality and morbidity and increase the health of the gut microflora – which helps birds stay healthy and continue to grow. The amount of use that is at growth promotion levels is extremely low, but regardless the chicken industry is working with government to completely eliminate this as an option for on-farm antibiotic use by the end of 2017. It is also important to point out that “growth promotants” do not refer to hormones. The use of hormones in chicken production has been illegal in Canada since the 1960s.

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Why isn’t Canada following the EU example and banning antibiotics?

Some people have cited the European Union example and asked us why Canada has not followed suit. It would be hasty to completely drop these tools which are critical components to  protecting bird health and welfare, and which are being used responsibly, appropriately and safely. Let’s be clear: the European Union has not banned the use of antibiotics altogether. Through a succession of bans, the European Union banned the majority of all feed antibiotics used for livestock agriculture. This is not a full ban on antibiotics, as antibiotics to treat sick animals can still be used. True, this approach has reduced the overall amount of medications being used, but now they have removed drugs that had little or no use in human medicine.

The negative side to the EU story is that, as a result of the ban, there has been an increase in the use of antibiotics that are more important to human medicine, specifically fluoroquinolones and macrolides. The debate rages on about this and the thought by governing officials of varying political stripes is that, since public health is the most important objective, raising the use of antibiotics of human importance  can’t be the desired outcome. The majority of antimicrobials used in poultry production are not used in human medicine, and likewise, the antibiotics most used in humans are not those most used in broiler production. Regardless, the chicken industry continues to investigate antibiotic use with a proactive and sector-wide goal of reduction.

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How about not using the antibiotics unless the birds are sick?

To be honest, a full ban on preventive antibiotics isn’t the answer yet. Remember, the majority of antibiotics used for chicken production are not the same antibiotics that are used for humans. The European experience has demonstrated that when preventive antibiotics are banned and birds get sick, a higher dose of a more powerful antibiotic is required – these are antibiotics that are often more important for human medicine. The chicken industry is continuing to study all facets of antibiotic use in animal agriculture to ensure that responsible, appropriate and safe use of antibiotics can continue while reduction methods are explored at all levels of the industry, and with stakeholders and government partners. There is no straightforward, easy solution to the antibiotic resistance and use discussion.

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How do you respond to doctors’ concerns that antibiotics in agriculture are dangerous for human health?

We take these comments and views very seriously. We rely heavily on industry and outside experts to guide us. We can also tell you that it is very important to farmers to reduce antibiotic resistance. So there is a significant benefit for us to work on this issue. There is no straightforward, easy solution to the antibiotic use and resistance discussion and there continue to be unanswered questions, but the industry, along with its partners and government are studying this complex issue from all sides. To date, the industry has spent $2.2 million on research (leveraged to over $10.8 million through other funding partners) on antibiotic reduction and replacements as well as on antimicrobial resistance. We firmly believe that using antimicrobials in a responsible manner is the responsibility of all individuals that use them – both within human medicine and within agriculture.

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Are farmers just sitting idly by?

Nothing could be further from the truth. Chicken farmers care deeply about this issue. They too want to preserve effective treatment options for their children and family.

Canada’s chicken farmers, and indeed the entire chicken industry, are working closely together, and spending millions of dollars on research to better understand the chicken immune system and to investigate antibiotic alternatives. We have proactively implemented a sector-wide strategy to control, monitor and reduce antimicrobial use while working alongside industry and government partners to safeguard poultry health and welfare. The continued availability of antimicrobials, and their subsequent responsible use, is important to safeguard poultry health and welfare.

The strategy includes:

  1. Defining antimicrobial use and analyzing antimicrobial resistance trends
  2. Reviewing best management practices
  3. Ensuring effective controls of antimicrobial use in Canada
  4. Educating stakeholders on the issues of antimicrobial use and resistance
  5. Researching and determining the availability of alternative products

At the farm, since 1998, chicken farmers have implemented a mandatory Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety Program to standardize food safety production practices whereby all farms receive yearly audits. A part of that program includes a reporting form that is sent with every flock to processing. Canadian Food Inspection Agency veterinarians verify these reports to determine that antibiotics were used as per their label or with a veterinary prescription and that the antibiotics are being used at the appropriate dosage for the appropriate application. Any product failing this investigation is not allowed on the market. Additionally, as part of the annual On-Farm Food Safety Program audit, auditors review the antibiotic usage and ensure withdrawal times are adhered to. Remember too, the majority of antibiotic use at the farm is overseen by a veterinarian, either at the feed mill or via the farmers’ veterinarian.

  • The “flock sheet” is a form used by farmers to record specific information about such things as feed, any antibiotics, medications or vaccines used, number of birds placed, etc.
  • A preliminary sheet is sent to the processor 3 to 4 days ahead of the flock and the complete information is required on the flock sheet with the shipment itself.
  • If there were any serious violations (illegal processes, withdrawal times not adhered to etc), the CFIA vet who works at the plant would not approve the slaughter of those birds and the farmer would not get paid.
  • Any farmers in violation of the on-farm food safety program can face stiff penalties

Farmers are also actively involved in funding research examining antimicrobial resistance and alternatives to antibiotic use, to the tune of several million dollars. In 2010, we also established a working group with industry stakeholders with the objective of reducing antibiotic usage. The sector-wide strategy listed above results from the work of this group. A second working group was established in 2015 to explore possible further reductions.

Chicken Farmers of Canada is working with the Canadian Integrated Program for Antibiotic Resistance Surveillance (CIPARS) of the Public Health Agency of Canada to conduct on-farm surveillance to monitor antibiotic resistance and use.

This surveillance program, along with a collaborative information sharing group between government and industry will provide further insight into antibiotic use and resistance in the Canadian chicken sector. In turn, this will help us determine future antibiotic policies.

The Public Health Agency of Canada, through CIPARS – which has been active since 2002 – performs surveillance at processing and retail outlets to assess antimicrobial resistance trends. This newer on-farm surveillance is another piece in the puzzle and becomes part of the larger CIPARS report which is used by industry and government to guide public health policy.

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Does this mean that humans are at risk?

A recent peer reviewed paper concluded that “the evidence for human health risks directly attributable to agricultural antibiotics runs the gamut from speculative to scant [1].” Regardless of this, proper care and handling of food should always be followed to make sure that bacteria and foodborne illness are kept at bay. When chicken is cooked properly, any bacteria, resistant or otherwise, are killed. Everyone involved in the food chain, from the primary producer to the consumer, has a role to play in ensuring our food is safe to eat. The food industry and governments work together to deliver food that is safe to consumers. The important, and sometimes forgotten, role of the consumer is to maintain the safety of that food by using safe food handling practices from the point of purchase.

Chicken Farmers of Canada, and other government and industry partners, together founded the Canadian Partnership for Consumer Food Safety Education in 1997 to create a single organization, funded by all partners, to address the ongoing need to inform consumers about safe food handling practices. The goal is to reduce the incidence of foodborne illness in Canada from all food sources, be they meat or vegetable, in order to protect Canadian consumers. The Partnership uses four key messages to educate consumers and help create safer eating environments at home:

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate

Cook: Cook to proper temperatures

Chill: Refrigerate promptly

For more on how you can safely prepare chicken at home, click here.

For more information on the Partnership, click here.

1 Chang et al., 2014. Antibiotics in agriculture and the risk to human health: how worried should we be? Evolutionary Applications, 8(3): 240-247.

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Can I do anything as a consumer?

Yes. On top of all the controls in place ensuring that Canadian chicken is safe, consumers can be the last line of defense by using proper handling and cooking practices. The tried and true messages about safe handling and cooking – clean, separate, cook and chill – are well-founded and applicable to this situation. Proper care and handling of food should always be followed to make sure that bacteria and foodborne illness are kept at bay. When chicken is cooked properly, any bacteria, resistant or otherwise, are killed. Everyone involved in the food chain, from the primary producer to the consumer, has a role to play in ensuring our food is safe to eat. The food industry and governments work together to deliver food that is safe to consumers. The important, and sometimes forgotten, role of the consumer is to maintain the safety of that food by using safe food handling practices from the point of purchase.

The Partnership uses four key messages to educate consumers and help create safer eating environments at home:

Clean: Wash hands and surfaces often

Separate: Don’t cross-contaminate

Cook: Cook to proper temperatures

Chill: Refrigerate promptly

For more on how you can safely prepare chicken at home, click here.

For more on how you can safely prepare chicken at home, click here.

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Are consumers actually eating antibiotics in chicken?

No – Consumers should be confident that chicken is free of antibiotic residues. That’s because a certain amount of time must pass from when an animal is last treated with antibiotics until it is processed. This is known as a withdrawal period, and it ensures that the drug has been metabolized by the body and no residues remain in the meat. This is monitored by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and over 99.8% of chicken samples taken in 2012/2013 contained no residues. You can rest assured that you are not eating antibiotics in your chicken.

Federal regulations (CFIA Meat Hygiene Manual of Procedures, Chapter 19, section 3.4.2) require chicken farmers to report antibiotics that have been used for each flock prior to the birds being processed. CFIA veterinarians verify these reports to determine that antibiotics were used as per their label or with a veterinary prescription and that the antibiotics are being used at the appropriate dosage for the appropriate application. Any product failing this investigation is not allowed on the market. Additionally, as part of the annual on-farm food safety audit, auditors review the antibiotic usage and ensure withdrawal times are adhered to.

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What kinds of programs do you have to ensure food safety on the farm?

Canadians are well served with Chicken Farmers of Canada’s on-farm food safety program. We have created an auditable program called Raised by a Canadian Farmer On-Farm Food Safety Program that combines good production practices and internationally recognized principles for raising chicken for meat in Canada. Chicken farmers in Canada are audited annually on this program.

In this program, antibiotic use is reported with every flock that is sent to processing and this is reviewed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. Additionally, as part of its annual audit, auditors audit the antibiotic usage and ensure withdrawal times are adhered to. The On-Farm Food Safety Program is a credible program that received technical recognition from the federal, provincial and territorial governments in 2013. On farm surveillance of resistance and use is coordinated by CIPARS – the Canadian Integrated Program for Antibiotic Resistance Surveillance of the Public Health Agency of Canada – and Chicken Farmers of Canada has been an active participant in this program.

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Do you have any videos describing the On-Farm Food Safety Program?

Yes, you can access them by clicking here, here, here and here.