Q&A on Conventional Production of Canadian Beef
Updated with additional links July 4, 2018
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.
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.
What are maximum residue levels (MRLs)?
There is a zero tolerance for residues of many veterinary drugs in beef allowed for human consumption. Some veterinary products have standardized maximum residue levels (MRLs) established by Health Canada. MRLs are minute and set far below the amount that could pose a human health concern when ingested daily over a lifetime.
More information on MRLs.
Learn how Canadian MRLs are determined in point #6 here.
Health Canada is one of 187 government members of the Codex Alimentarius Commission. The Codex was established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations and the World Health Organization (WHO) to develop harmonized international food standards, guidelines, and codes of practice to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair food trade practices.
Can consumers be confident Canadian beef is safe from drug residues?
The CFIA randomly samples the food supply for potential contamination. It is extremely rare that unacceptable residue levels are detected. Foods exceeding the limit are further analyzed by CFIA/Health Canada to determine if a product seizure or recall is necessary. Test results that raise concerns are a very rare occurrence but regular testing ensures the safety of Canadian beef.
What are the benefits of using growth promotants in feedlot cattle?
Growth promotants enable producers to raise more beef, more rapidly using less feed, which also have positive environmental implications including reduced fuel and fertilizer use and reduced manure and greenhouse gas production.
What would happen if the Canadian beef industry stopped using growth promotants?
Feedlot production costs would be 8% higher if producers chose not to or were unable to use implants, ionophores or beta-agonists. To produce the same amount of Canadian beef without the use of growth promotants would require 12% more cattle, 10% more land, 11% more feed, and 4% more water. It would also require 7% more fuel and fertilizer. The reduced feed efficiency and more days to finish would also mean that the cattle would produce 10% more manure (with 10% more nitrogen and 11% more phosphorus), and 10% more and greenhouse gasses in the process. To learn more about how Canadian beef production is becoming more efficient.
Margins are typically very tight for cattle feeders due to high costs for calves and feed, so the added expense may put most cattle feeders out of business. Added production costs in combination with lower supplies would considerably increase retail prices, making Canadian beef unaffordable for many families and uncompetitive in the world market.
Because the proper use of growth promotant technologies do not pose any scientifically-founded food safety concerns, discontinuing their use would have clear negative consequences for the Canadian beef industry and the environment with no obvious benefit for human health.
How is the welfare of Canadian beef cattle upheld?
In addition to legislation such as the Criminal Code of Canada, Health of Animals Act and provincial animal care acts, Canada’s Code of Practice for the Care and Handling of Beef Cattle serves as the industry’s national understanding of animal care requirements and recommended practices. The Code was originally developed in 1991 and updated in 2013.
The Code was developed by committee members that represented nearly all of the groups that form the National Farm Animal Care Council (NFACC), including the Canadian Cattlemen’s Association, animal welfare organizations, animal welfare regulatory enforcement, provincial and federal governments, veterinarians, beef processors, researchers, transporters and cattle producers from different regions of Canada and from the different sectors of cattle production. In addition to committee members’ expertise, a public comment period that spanned two months in early 2013 collected more than 400 comments on a proposed draft of the Code.
Learn more about federal and provincial legislation farm animal welfare.
What would happen if a licensed veterinary product had an adverse effect?
Cattle producers, veterinarians, pharmaceutical companies and Health Canada’s VDD work together to identify, report and investigate potential cases of adverse drug reactions.
To learn more about how the VDD monitors livestock drugs on an ongoing basis even after they have been registered, approved and licensed in Canada, visit pharmacovigilance.pdf
Is conventional beef production in Canada contributing to antimicrobial resistance?
The Public Health Agency of Canada’s annual reports on the “Canadian Integrated Program for Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance” (CIPARS) indicate that Canada’s beef cattle and retail beef have extremely low levels of antimicrobial resistance to the drugs that are most important in human health, and that these levels are not increasing.
Starting December 1, 2018, all Canadian livestock producers will need a prescription from a licensed veterinarian before they can access medically important antibiotics for use in livestock.
How is the safety of Canadian beef maintained at the farm level?
The Verified Beef Production™ (VBP) program identifies practical, industry-sanctioned practices to manage food safety risks at the farm level. It has undergone two technical reviews by the CFIA since 2003, and over 80% of Canada’s feedlot production is from VBP-trained operations.
How is the safety of Canadian beef maintained at the processing level?
Food safety is overseen by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency through several Acts. Many of these Acts and their regulations will be consolidated as the Safe Food for Canadians Act and its regulations come into force.
Canadian beef processors have developed and implemented a number of tools to ensure that the beef they produce is safe. Learn more about food safety technologies used in Canadian beef processing plants here.
Why should consumers remain confident that conventionally raised Canadian beef is safe?
Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) share responsibility for ensuring that Canada’s food supply is safe. All animals processed in Canada are inspected to ensure that they are free of disease and are safe to eat. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency administers the Health of Animals Act and Meat Inspection Act that govern this process.
Here is a brief summary of how the inspection process works.
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