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Ron Silvester's "Slim" bull.

Global reductions of “superbugs” are on the world’s agenda once again. The medical scientific community signed a declaration to fight antibiotic resistance at The World Economic Forum held Jan. 21 in Davos, Switzerland.

That means Saskatchewan ranchers and farmers have been put on watch for overuse of antimicrobials, which lead to drug-resistant bugs.

In 2013, 99.4 per cent of the total antimicrobials distributed for veterinary use in Canada were used in food-production animals, according to Health   Canada.

The Canadian Federal Government had already released their agenda in 2014.

Both parties make the commitment to reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics in livestock.

Health Canada is in collaboration with the Canadian Animal Health Institute. Together they are implementing the removal of growth-promoting antimicrobials used in food-production animals.

“That’s just a piece of the puzzle,” said Christopher Yost, Canada Research Chair in Microbes and the Environment and food safety professor at the University of Regina.

“The vets won’t be reporting on the antibiotics in the feed,” said Yost. Instead they’ll be reporting on therapeutic use.

“Most ranchers know if (cattle) have pneumonia and the antibiotic to give them, or they ask the vet, but it’s not very much that (cattle) need an antibiotic,” said rancher Ron Silvester.

“The therapeutic administration of antibiotics is much lower than the amount of tons that’s put into feed,” said Yost.

Antibiotics have long been added to feed for growth promotion. The Canadian Animal Health Institute intends to have the final implementation of removal completed by December 2017.

“It takes that long to get the regulation in place. That’s not our companies; that’s the federal government. That’s the time frames the federal government has for enacting these,” said Jean Szkotnicki, the Institute’s president.

“Life-threatening data is the most important way to drive public policy,” said Yost.

Antibiotic use in livestock is a real human threat. The effectiveness of antibiotics is impeded by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics can lose their fighting power as the “superbugs” become stronger. No new class of antibiotics has been discovered since 1987, which increases the threat.

“No antibiotic residues are on the meat - great, but point out the antibiotic-resistant bacteria because they’re the ones causing the problem,” said Yost.

Antimicrobial resistance is the natural process by which bacteria develop resistance to the medications generally used to treat them.

“There’s a lot of new stuff now vets are prescribing,” Silvester said.

“In cattle what’s the main route of antibiotic resistant bacteria? Probably feeding them.” Szkotnicki said, although “use in the feed is not the sole cause of resistance.”

Water contamination and the over-prescription of drugs are also main routes.

“If there’s a need you give them an antibiotic or you haul them over the hill because they’re going to die. It’s the same for people, don’t they go to doctors? People don’t just pump antibiotics into the animals for the fun of it,” said Silvester.

“We are working on appropriate use of medically important microbials, Category one, two, and three is not considered to be growth promotion. We are still going to allow the use of the category four (ionophores) for growth promotion reasons,” states Szkotnicki.

This will “align Canada with initiatives in the United States,” said Szkotnicki.

“There is no evidence that ionophores used in livestock increases resistance to other antibiotics,” according to Reynold Bergen, director of science for the Beef Cattle Research Council.

This is good news for ranchers and farmers, as category four microbials (ionophores) provide important economic and environmental benefits for the livestock industry.