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Message received on antibiotic use

Poultry health expert says industry has responded to consumer concerns and is reducing antibiotic use

The poultry industry has a good news story when it comes to antibiotic use and it’s time to share it.

“The industry is driving the bus right now and that’s a good thing,” said Dr. Tom Inglis, a vet and managing partner of Poultry Health Services in Airdrie.

“It behooves us to think a little bit about the impact of some of these choices, and they do have a huge impact.”

The industry is “not going to educate Canadian consumers,” Inglis said at the recent Western Poultry Conference.

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“We have to listen to what they want and provide it in the marketplace,” he said. “And one of the things that consumers are concerned about is antibiotics.”

He pointed to consumer concerns about drug residues in meat — even though poultry meat has either none or, at worse, “residues of tiny proportions.”

But the industry is nevertheless revamping its use of antibiotics, he said.

“We’re in a period where things are getting changed and where they will change quickly,” said Inglis.

In both veterinary and human medicine, doctors used to treat first and ask later, now the reverse is becoming the norm as both professions seek to reduce antibiotic use. Regulators are also now publishing results of poor findings rather than overseeing corrections and fines.

“If you get a salmonella violation, for example, they’ll just publish it and let the retail world take care of you,” he said.

By year’s end, growth promotion claims will no longer be allowed for medically important antimicrobials, and those drugs can only be used in food animals under the direction of a veterinarian for treating specific diseases. The industry is also tackling the issue of extra label use. The poultry industry has also taken a proactive use to voluntarily quit using Category 1 drugs, which are important to human medicine, for prophylactic use.

The bottom line is that the industry is responding to public concerns, said Inglis.

“In terms of the judicious use of antimicrobials, I would say that we’re well on our way,” he said. “Most of the time, we’re not doing therapeutic treatments in our flocks. That’s a really positive story that we’re sitting quietly on top of.

“We’re doing all the right stuff. Our story is that most of the time, we don’t need antibiotics. This is a good story.”

Recent studies also suggest there is a reduction in antimicrobial resistance.

“It’s important to me that we measure resistance outcomes,” said Inglis. “If we’re not getting better results, then we’re not winning.”

But he also warned that raising poultry without any drug use isn’t possible.

“The truth is that raising birds without any antibiotics ever is not a sustainable industry position,” he said.

But producers have to do everything they can to reduce the threat of disease. That includes good nutrition, vaccination, clean water, and proper disinfection procedures, as well as things such as ensuring proper temperatures in barns.

“Getting the birds started right is critical — if you chill a bird, the immune system does not function properly and they will not do well, ever,” he said. “Chickens do much better if they have the same humidity and temperature as at the hatchery. It makes a huge difference if we get that right.”

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, she has also published two collections of poetry and a biography about a Sikh civil rights activist. Her freelance work has appeared in numerous publications across Canada.

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