Food Safety Part 1 (Jan. 25 Empire-Advance) looked at the growing evidence of health issues from nitrites in cured meats like bacon and ham. This time I want to focus on the overuse of antibiotics in livestock production in Canada and what Health Canada is, or isn’t, doing about it.
Antimicrobials (antibiotics) have long been used as a growth promotant in meat production in Canada, in addition to their rightful use in disease control and prevention. In 2014, 1.5 million kilograms of antimicrobial active ingredient was used in Canada, much of it as a feed additive for growth promotion.
It is now well documented that excessive antimicrobial use is linked to the development and proliferation of the so called “superbugs” (C. difficile, MRSA, VRE etc.), which have serious implications for human health and disease control. Many countries have banned the use of antimicrobials as a feed additive due to this linkage. Canada has not and the regulator says it has no plans to do so.
So what has Health Canada done to curb this problem? As of Dec. 2018 all medically important antimicrobials can only be sold by prescription. Growth promotion claims cannot be on the label, and mandatory reporting of sales volumes is required. But are these measures anywhere near rigorous enough to eliminate the use for growth promotion purposes? I don’t see any big stick for those who continue to use antibiotic feed additives as they have in the past.
Interestingly, Maple Leaf is moving to eliminate antibiotics as a feed additive in the barns it owns. It must have realized that business as usual (antibiotics as a feed additive for growth promotion) is not going to be successful once the Canadian public realizes that it is: a) not necessary and b) contributing to a serious and growing public health hazard. If that pork was segregated throughout the plant it could proudly bear the sticker “Raised Without the Use of Antibiotics”, as sanctioned by Health Canada.
That brings me to the advertising used by our own Manitoba Pork Council. The latest version (per Brandon Sun community page sponsor advertising) is “never contains any antibiotics”. It’s subtle, but it is deceptive to the consumer. The statement would suggest the product has had no association with antibiotics of any kind (as in “raised without…”). For much of that product, “does not contain significant antibiotic residues” would be more a more truthful statement, but a whole lot less appetizing.
The regulator should have something to say about deceptive advertising. Where is the regulator?
It’s 14 years since Michael McBane published his aptly titled book “Ill-Health Canada - Putting Food and Drug Company Profits Ahead of Safety”. I’m not sure very much has changed.