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Five things to know about antibiotics and food

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Consumers want to know how their food is produced and that’s great news. But with misinformation circulating about the food production system, some misconceptions have developed about what people are eating when they purchase certain foods. And prevalent among those misconceptions is the issue of antibiotics.

Below is some messaging to help you respond to a few of the misperceptions concerning antibiotics.

Why use antibiotics?

Myth: There is no real need to use antibiotics in agriculture.

Fact: Antibiotics play an essential role in maintaining a safe and secure food supply by helping keep animals healthy.

Truth: Farmers use many practices and tools to care for their animals, including vaccines, good nutrition, stress reduction, and antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to treat, prevent, and control disease as well as for nutritional efficiency, and farmers work in close collaboration with veterinarians to ensure antibiotics are used appropriately and safely. The proper use of antibiotics on farms ensures the overall health and well-being of livestock, and that we all  have access to safe and healthy food in quantities to meet our needs.


Antibiotic resistance

Myth: Antibiotic residues and antibiotic resistance are the same thing.

Fact: Antibiotic residues are traces of antibiotics that remain in the products of animals that have been treated. In Canada, animal food products are routinely and thoroughly inspected to ensure antibiotic residues do not enter the food chain.

Truth: Antibiotic resistance is a serious threat to global health. Antibiotic resistance happens naturally, and any antibiotic use can lead to resistance. That’s why everyone in human and animal medicine has a role to play in preventing resistance by using antibiotics responsibly. The increasing awareness of antibiotic resistance has led Canadian farmers to improve on-farm practices regarding antibiotic use, and research is ongoing to find alternative options for livestock health and welfare.

Residues in meat

Myth: Meat products are full of antibiotic residues.

Fact: Eating meat does not mean you are consuming the antibiotics the animal was given.

Truth: Canada has strict regulations for withdrawal periods, which is the amount of time that must pass before sending a treated animal or its products for processing. This procedure ensures antibiotics have left an animal’s system so that residues don’t end up in food, and testing is done regularly to verify compliance. For example, in 2013, more than 99.9% of both domestic and imported beef products were free from residues. And, if any residues are found, the beef is not allowed to enter the food chain.

Dairy and antibiotics

Myth: Antibiotic residues are common in dairy products.

Fact: There are no antibiotic residues in dairy products.

Truth: Canada has some of the highest standards in the world when it comes to milk quality. All milk in Canada is tested for antibiotic residues before it is accepted by a processing plant. The tests are so sophisticated that they can measure in parts per billion, which is the equivalent of finding a drop in an olympic-sized swimming pool. Of the 2.2 million milk pickups at Canadian farms each year, less than 0.009% test positive for antibiotics – and in those rare occasions when antibiotics are detected, the milk is discarded and never enters the food supply. The samples are also traceable, so any farmer responsible for supplying contaminated milk will not only lose money for their milk, but also have to face steep financial penalties.

Types of antibiotics

Myth: All antibiotic use in livestock affects human antibiotic resistance

Fact: Antibiotics are not all equal, and some of the most common veterinary antibiotics are not used in human medicine.

Truth: Not all antibiotics are the same. The antibiotics most often used to treat farm animals are not used to treat humans. And, the most important antibiotics in human medicine are rarely used in animals. For example, nearly 60% of all antibiotics used in chicken production are not used for human medicine. And farmers continue to work to reduce antibiotic use on farms across the country while ensuring their animals still receive the best care available. In fact, as of December 1, 2018, Canadian farmers will require a prescription for the veterinary use of all medically important antibiotics. And Canada’s chicken farmers have set a goal to eliminate the preventative use of all antibiotics important to human health by the end of 2020.

Further reading:

Agriculture in the Classroom (snapAg) – Animal Health

Alberta Beef Producers – Worried About Antibiotic Use and Resistance in Cattle?

Alberta Farm Animal Care – Antibiotic Use in the Livestock Industry

Beef Cattle Research Council – Antimicrobial Resistance

Beef Cattle Research Council – What Beef Producers Need to Know About Antimicrobial Use and Resistance (video)

Best Food Facts – Do Antibiotics Do More Harm Than Good?

Best Food Facts – Antibiotics for Animals: Dangerous for Humans?

Canada Beef – Understanding Antibiotics and Beef Cattle

Canadian Animal Health Institute – Antibiotics

Canadian Pork Council – Swine Health

Chicken Farmers of Canada – Antibiotics

CommonGround – Antibiotics and Animal Health

Egg Farmers of Canada – Are Antibiotics Used in Laying Hens?

Food Insight – Animal Antibiotics in Food Production: What You Should Know

Health Canada – For Your Information: Antimicrobial Resistance

Health Canada – Antibiotic Resistance and Animals


Let’s Talk Chicken – Antibiotics

Mike the Chicken Vet – What do you put in those chickens?

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity – Antibiotics Apocalypse or Resistance Overreaction? Media Coverage Runs the Gamut

The Real Dirt on Farming (page 32)

Turkey Farmers of Canada – Antibiotics: Your Questions Answered

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