Canadian Rules for Antibiotic Use in Animals

Animals are sometimes given antibiotics. Is the meat from these animals safe to eat? Dr. Daniel Hurnik, a veterinarian and professor at the University of Prince Edward Island, explains the processes in place in Canada to ensure the safety of meat.

Why do we feed animals antibiotics?

Dr. Hurnik: “Antibiotics, or more specifically antimicrobial drugs, are prescription medications used to treat bacterial diseases in animals and people. If animals have a bacterial infection one of the ways to treat them is to mix it with their food to ensure it is consumed with minimal handling or stress. A licensed veterinarian may prescribe antimicrobial medications if needed for the health and welfare of the animals under their care.”

 How do we ensure that there is no antibiotic residue in our food?

Dr. Hurnik: “Drugs that are approved for use in food animals have been assessed by Health Canada for safety to the food consuming public. Part of that approval is a determination of how much time needs to pass for the drugs to be sufficiently eliminated from the animal so that the resulting food products are suitable for human consumption.”

 What are withdrawal periods?

Dr. Hurnik: The amount of time that needs to pass from when a drug is given to an animal until it has adequately eliminated that drug and is fit for human consumption is called the withdrawal time.”

 How are withdrawal periods determined? What testing goes into ensuring safe food?

 Dr. Hurnik: “The withdrawal times are approved by Health Canada to ensure any residues of drugs in food products are below levels deemed to be safe for the consuming public.  Health Canada sets these maximum residue limits (MRLs) for drugs that are approved for use in food producing animals. At federally inspected meat processing establishments, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has a testing program to ensure there are no residues above the MRLs, if such residue is found during meat inspection, the meat is not approved for human consumption.”

What are the ways that the food system ensures withdrawal periods are enforced?

Dr. Hurnick: “Livestock producers are aware of withdrawal times because they are clearly written on the drug labels and on prescriptions provided by their veterinarian. Quality assurance programs provide training on the administration of medications to farm animals and they contain procedures that producers follow to make sure withdrawals times are respected when marketing their animals.”

Regulations in place, such as withdrawal periods from the time an animal is given an antibiotic until it is considered safe for consumption, help to enusre the safety of the food supply.