Do Cattle Bacteria Contribute to Antibiotic Resistance in Human Medicine?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the November 2020 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.

E. coli live in the digestive tracts of warm-blooded animals and birds. Most are harmless, some are beneficial, and some (like E. coli O157:H7) can be very dangerous. E. coli are also involved in antibiotic resistance.

“Extended-spectrum beta-lactamase producing” (or ESBL) E. coli are a major concern in human medicine. These bacteria are resistant to many antibiotics used in both human and veterinary medicine. Ordinary E. coli can cause urinary tract or bloodstream infections in people. They’re usually quite easy to treat with antibiotics. But if ESBL E. coli are responsible, the infection can’t be easily treated with antibiotics, and the illness can be much worse or even fatal.

E. coli rarely causes disease in feedlot cattle. But ESBL E. coli are still a concern, because antibiotic resistance genes are often located on “mobile genetic elements” that bacteria can trade with each other, even with completely unrelated bacteria. So antibiotic resistant BRD bacteria like Mannheimia, Pasteurella or Histophilus can spread their antibiotic resistance genes to each other, or possibly to E. coli. That’s like a border collie developing horns after a day of herding Herefords. Continue reading

What Makes Soil Healthy?


Photo credit to Cover Crops Canada

Soil health has been defined as “the continued capacity of soil to function as a vital living system, within ecosystem and land-use boundaries, to sustain biological productivity, maintain the quality of air and water environments, and promote plant, animal, and human health”. The challenge with this poetic definition is that, while it does describe the functional abilities of soil, it does not provide quantifiable values or measurements. There are no metrics to determine what makes soil healthy or to help identify the current soil health status (i.e. is it healthy or does it still need work?).

Although most producers can agree that soil health is important, actual measurable values of what makes soil “healthy” will vary from farm to farm. Numerous research projects across the globe are working on gaining a better understanding of soil health and what that means for individual operations but have yet to come up with specific, global parameters other than the definition provided in 1996. This challenge makes sense – consider Canada for instance. Values for pH, salinity, water infiltration, and organic matter vary significantly across the country and what is considered “good” in one area may not be considered valuable in another region. Continue reading

Improving Environmental Performance and Bottom Lines



On Earth Day, Canadians and people all over the world celebrate the positive impacts they can have on the environment. In the past, the Beef Cattle Research Council has highlighted beef’s positive impact on biodiversity, carbon sequestration and maintaining prairie habitat, as well as positive changes producers have made to reduce the environmental footprint of Canadian beef. What often gets overlooked is that everyday improvements in efficiencies help to reduce the environmental impact of Canadian beef. This means that simply by working to improve their bottom line, beef producers are improving the environmental performance of our industry at the same time.

Improving production efficiencies, greater forage productivity, enhanced reproductive performance, improved animal health and reduced days on feed all play a role in reducing the impact that beef production has on the environment.
The following are some current projects underway, funded by the Canadian Beef Check-Off, that are working to improve beef production efficiencies and consequently reduce the environmental impact of beef. Continue reading

Cost of Manure Management



Manure, when used properly, is a valuable resource for the cropping or forage sectors, but handling it comes with a cost. While many producers extensively winter feed their cattle which reduces or eliminates the cost and time associated with manure removal, hauling and application, this article discusses traditional management of livestock manure.

The traditional management of livestock manure involves removal from drylot pens each spring to be utilized as fertilizer on crop or pasture, in either raw or composted form. The application of manure has short-term and long-term effects on crop yields. In the short term, the addition of nutrients (such as nitrogen) in manure may immediately increase yields. In the long-term, increases in yields may be due to delayed nutrient release or improvements in soil quality as the result of a series of complex interactions between the nutrients, organic matter and organisms in the manure and the existing conditions of the soil. Continue reading

Beef’s Place in a Healthy Environment: Infographic

Cutting back on the amount of beef Canadians consume has been suggested in the media and public conversations online as a strategy to help save the planet. This recommendation may be based on the erroneous belief that Canadian land is inappropriately or inefficiently used in order to produce beef, but it certainly overlooks the positive impacts that a healthy beef sector has on the environment.

In fact, as you’ll read in the accompanying infographic,:

  • much of the land that cattle graze in Canada cannot be used for other purposes
  • sensitive grasslands, like the endangered Northern Great Plains, and endangered plants, animals and birds can be protected when managed by cattle producers
  • well managed grazing can also restore unproductive soils that have been degraded through improper management
  • most of the plants cattle eat and convert into nutrient-dense meat aren’t edible by humans; they are low quality forage and grains that aren’t high enough quality for human consumption and would otherwise go to waste
  • beef production in Canada provides a unique set of positive environmental and human health impacts that few other food products are capable of

Through the use of technology, innovation and sustainable management practices, Canadian beef producers continue to produce more with less. Research shows that the environmental footprint of Canadian beef production has decreased by more than 15% over the past three decades.

Download our infographic, ‘Beef’s Place in a Healthy Environment’ (PDF, 1396 KB)

Download the French version (PDF, 2480 KB)

Continue reading

Isn’t Beef Canada’s Ultimate Plant Based Protein?

Editor’s note: this article is also available in French. Download the translated version here. 

The profile of plant-based proteins has grown exponentially over the past decade. Food companies are investing heavily in the development of new vegetarian and vegan products like new meatless burgers made from peas, which are quickly going mainstream. The spotlight is extra bright on Earth Day.

As plant-based protein options become more abundant, people can’t help but wonder how they compare to meat. Is producing plant-based proteins better for the environment than livestock? Are meatless options healthier? Should I replace beef burgers with plant-based patties?

Environmentally, agriculturally and nutritionally speaking, Canadians need legumes and meat. There’s no good reason to choose one over the other – it’s best to choose both. In fact, beef production provides unique environmental and human health benefits, so it’s important to keep beef in the mix. Continue reading

How much water is used to make a pound of beef?

Facts about water use and other environmental impacts of beef production in Canada

Yes, it takes water to produce beef, but in the 2.5 million years since our ancestors started eating meat, we haven’t lost a drop yet.

Based on the most recent science and extensive calculations of a wide range of factors, it is estimated that the pasture-to-plate journey of this important protein source requires about 1,910 US gallons per pound (or 15,944 litres per kilogram) of water to get Canadian beef to the dinner table. That’s what is known as the “water footprint” of beef production.

That may sound like a lot, but the fact is it doesn’t matter what crop or animal is being produced; food production takes water. Sometimes it sounds like a lot of water, but water that is used to produce a feed crop or cattle is not lost. Water is recycled – sometimes in a very complex biological process— and it all comes back to be used again. Continue reading

Does Antibiotic Resistance Move Through the Environment?

This article written by Dr. Reynold Bergen, BCRC Science Director, originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Canadian Cattlemen magazine and is reprinted on the BCRC Blog with permission of the publisher.


Recent columns have talked about antibiotic use in Canadian cow-calf and feedlot operations. Contrary to common misconceptions, antibiotic resistant bacteria are very unlikely to transfer from cattle to beef, evade food safety interventions in the processing plant, survive cooking, and cause an antibiotic resistant infection in a person. But can antibiotic resistant bacteria be transmitted from cattle, through feedlot manure and runoff, across soil, through wetlands, streams and rivers, and reach humans through the environment?

A Beef Science Cluster study led by Dr. Rahat Zaheer and Tim McAllister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (with collaborators from the Public Health Agency of Canada, the University of Calgary’s faculties of medicine and veterinary medicine, University of Guelph, Alberta Agriculture and Feedlot Health Management Services) examined this question.

What they did: This research focused on bacteria called enterococci that can cause infections in humans (e.g. urinary tract, liver and bile duct, heart, surgery wound, and bloodstream infections). Most enterococcal infections can be effectively treated with macrolide antibiotics. This is important because macrolides (products like Draxxin, Zuprevo, Micotil, Tylan, Zactran, etc.) are commonly used in both beef production and human medicine.

Over a two-year period, this team collected samples from feedlots (pen floor fecal samples, collection ponds, stockpiled and composted manure), agricultural soils, wetlands, streams, municipal sewage, packing plants, retail meats and human patients. Advanced lab testing was used to identify the specific types of enterococci and antibiotic resistance patterns in the samples from each location.

Continue reading

Q&A on conventional production of Canadian Beef

Do growth promoting, antimicrobial or other veterinary drugs affect the food safety of Canadian beef?



Veterinary drugs are regulated by the Food and Drugs Act and Regulations. All veterinary drugs go through a Health Canada approval process before they are licensed for use.  The Health Canada Veterinary Drug Directorate (VDD) evaluates and monitors the safety, quality and effectiveness, and sets standards for the use of veterinary drugs to ensure that, when used according to label directions, they are safe for both animals and humans.

For a more detailed explanation of the veterinary drug approval process in Canada, download ‘Canada’s Veterinary Drug Approval Process

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Label and veterinary directions indicate proper administration doses and routes for veterinary products, as well as pre-slaughter withdrawal times, which ensure that the product has been metabolized by the animal before the meat is harvested. Most drugs are completely metabolized during the prescribed minimum number of days between the last administration of the drug and slaughter, and therefore leave no residue. Continue reading

Are Cattle Drinking Canada Dry?



We often see headlines about how human lifestyle and dietary choices (particularly beef consumption) can impact environmental sustainability. These headlines are often about greenhouse gases, but water use has become a part of this conversation as well. Vilifying headlines and simple, partial arguments are interesting and emotional; that sells papers and gets clicks. Complex, science-based facts about the positive impacts cattle have on the environment and the need for both crops and cattle across the country’s diverse landscape are less exciting, but here they are:

Beef cattle use water

Make no mistake – it does take more water to produce a pound of uncooked, boneless beef (over 1,800 gallons/6814 liters) than to produce a pound of dry peas (178 gallons/674 liters), dry beans (488 gallons/1847 liters) or dry lentils (577 gallons/2184 liters), or any other protein crop, but this is only one of many pieces of information to consider. The pastures and feed crops that beef cattle eat account for nearly all (99%) of the water used in beef production.

Does that mean that the land used to raise cattle should be converted to crop production? Not necessarily. There are many reasons why not all land is suitable for cultivated agriculture and why raising beef plays an important role in sustainably feeding the population. Continue reading