Antibiotics & Ag: Can we solve global challenges in <144 characters?

This week swine veterinarians from across western Canada met in Saskatoon. On our agenda – antibiotic resistance. We heard about the human health threat, learned about upcoming changes in regulations for livestock antimicrobials in Canada, and discussed our professional role in this issue. In trend with many conferences I tweeted interesting thoughts, facts and ideas from our speakers.

And a social media conversation started up. Anyone who has tweeted knows how challenging and frustrating it is to clearly communicate in 144 characters or less. Particularly when you are tweeting about complex and multifactorial One Health threats. So when I woke up this morning (yes – I’m pretty old & boring and don’t actually follow twitter around the clock) my feed was full of rebuttals to my tweets. I tried to tweet back but quickly realized it was only adding fuel to the fire and muddying the issue further. So (in more like 1 million characters) here are my thoughts:

  • #AMR is like climate change except there are no sceptics.
    • Ok so there ARE sceptics, at least in the Twittersphere. Clinical experience and surveillance in human and veterinary medicine show resistance exists. Most evidence shows it is increasing. And few if any new antimicrobials are being developed to replace the older drugs where resistance has become common. Resistance is real and is not going away any time soon. But don’t take my word. Check out data released by Canada, Denmark, and the United States which are just a few of the many countries doing surveillance.
  • We don’t need to quantify how much Ag is contributing to AMR but how much we can contribute to the solution.
    • Antibiotic use ALWAYS promotes resistance. EVERY time it is used there is selective pressure. But it is like driving your car to work. You are contributing fractionally to global warming but choose to do so because there are immediate tangible benefits. Likewise, I am NOT saying food producers shouldn’t use antibiotics. It just means this effect needs to be considered when we weigh the benefits and risks of use.
    • For years we have debated how much Agriculture is responsible for resistance in human medicine. This is an impossible question with today’s scientific techniques. And it has been a detrimental focus – pitting agriculture against medicine. We cannot be distracted from the fact that all users of antibiotics need to be good stewards. Everyone who uses antibiotics has a responsibility to use them responsibly.
  • There are no antibiotics in Canadian meat.
    • True! Canadian farmers must wait for a certain time to pass after using an antibiotic before the meat, milk or eggs can be sold for food. This ensures that the antibiotic has depleted in the tissues and poses no hazard to the consumer. Strict testing by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) ensures rules have been followed. The NO – NEVER – EVER campaigns are built on fear and the belief that you the consumer can’t be bothered to understand this.

I strongly advocate for protect agriculture’s right to use antimicrobials. We need these medicines to ensure animal health and welfare. Without antibiotics sick animals suffer.

While it is great that consumers in Canada have options when making food purchasing choices No – Never – Ever fuel consumer fear without positively contributing to education or to finding solutions to this real health threat. I appreciate twitter fueling this conversation – I’m just not eloquent enough to say it in 144 or less.

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