By Lucia Weiler BSc, RD, PHEc
Should you be concerned about antibiotics in food?
Short answer – No. Health Canada recognizes that a safe food supply is a critical for the health of Canadians and they highly regulate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture to protect human and animal health. Health Canada also sets strict requirements on the proper use of antibiotics and defines a withdrawal period which is the time it takes to clear the medicine residues from animals. Should any antibiotic residue be left in meat and poultry they are at a very low, insignificant, and safe level.
Did you know that Canada is regarded as having one of the safest food systems in the world?
Why are antibiotics used?
When animals get sick, like humans they need to be treated for illness. Farmers, with the supervision of a veterinarian, can use medicines like antibiotics to prevent or cure diseases in animals. Some antibiotics can prevent animal suffering or reduce the need for more powerful medicines if a disease becomes more serious. Antibiotics can also help control disease, by reducing the spread of illness within a herd.
How are antibiotics regulated in animal agriculture?
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency work together to provide safe food by regulating the proper use of antibiotics in animal agriculture. For example:
- Health Canada reviews all antibiotics for thorough scientific testing and safety before approving them for use to make sure they are both safe and effective.
- Health Canada sets the rules for the proper use of antibiotics. This includes the type of antibiotic to be used, the dose and the duration. For example, if a dairy cow is treated with antibiotics, its milk cannot be sold.
- Veterinary doctors work with farmers to determine the appropriate and safe amount of antibiotic for animal use based on science and best practice guidelines.
- Health Canada sets maximum levels of antibiotics that can be left in food. These antibiotic residue limits are set at levels far below the amount that could pose a health concern.
- Health Canada also sets strict regulations about when an animal must be withdrawn from the market after antibiotic use. This time is known as the ‘withdrawal period’, and it ensures that antibiotics clear the animal’s system before any product from the animal is sold as food.
- The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) monitors the safety, quality, and effectiveness of antibiotics in animal agriculture. CFIA conducts routine testing to make sure the rules for antibiotic use are followed and to ensure our food is safe. If the standards are not met, the food can be removed from the food supply.
What about foods ‘raised without antibiotics’ and organic foods?
If you buy food labelled as ‘raised without the use of antibiotics’, then this means that no antibiotics were given to the animal during its lifetime. Organic food is not allowed to be produced with the use of antibiotics, so if an animal was treated with antibiotics, they cannot be sold as organic.
Remember that all Canadian farming practices ensure that your food is free of antibiotic residues and safe to eat.
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