Adapted from: “The way you purchase antibiotics is changing” by Beef Cattle Research Council & Alberta Beef Producers, March 2018.
Starting Dec. 1, 2018, all livestock producers will need a prescription from a licensed veterinarian before they can buy a medically important antibiotic (MIA) for use in livestock production. MIAs are drugs considered to be essential for the treatment of bacterial infections in humans, as classified by Health Canada.
The new policy doesn’t just apply to injectable products, but also includes all oral antibiotics including boluses, and in-feed and in-water antibiotics, as well as implants that contain MIA. Producers will no longer be able to buy a bottle of antibiotics to treat common infections without a valid prescription. Feed mills will only be allowed to sell medicated feed formulated with antibiotics if the buyer presents a valid prescription, and will no longer be able to sell antibiotics directly to producers for on-farm mixing.
All producers will need to establish a vet-client-patient relationship (VCPR) before they can obtain a prescription for a MIA. In simple terms, this means your veterinarian understands your operation, your management practices, your animals and common health issues well enough to provide meaningful advice and oversight.
Once a valid VCPR has been established with a licensed veterinarian and a medical need for the drug is confirmed, a producer will be able to obtain a prescription for a given amount of product over a specified period of time. Prescriptions can be valid for a specified length of time, allowing producers to refill as needed if that is what the veterinarian advises.
For example, a veterinarian may work with a livestock producer to design a livestock health protocol for a group of animals, based on a working knowledge of the operation, health records and livestock history. This protocol may anticipate a medical need for treatment of specific commonly occurring health conditions like pinkeye or footrot, and then a prescription can be written to cover the estimated amount required (X bottles of a certain product) throughout the year. This way, the producer can buy medication as needed up to the estimated amount, or up to the expiry date of the prescription. Producers who already have a strong relationship with their veterinarian likely won’t see any change in normal practices.
Where these prescriptions can be filled may vary from province to province. Some provinces may only allow veterinarians or pharmacists to sell antibiotics; others may approve other distribution channels. In Saskatchewan, only veterinarians and pharmacists are legally allowed to dispense prescription medications. This means producers will no longer be able to purchase antibiotics at feed and farm supply stores.
Why the change?
This directive from Health Canada is part of a worldwide awareness of and response to antibiotic resistance issues. Its main focus is to:
Ensure antibiotics are used appropriately in animal agriculture to avoid or slow the development of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. As a result, currently available antibiotics will remain effective for a longer period of time.
Strengthen public trust by demonstrating responsibility and appropriate use by showing that products are only used when needed, at the appropriate dose and duration, and observing proper withdrawal times.