(NaturalNews) A loophole in federal law is allowing Canadian farmers to import unapproved and untested antibiotics with little oversight, according to an article released on April 8 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ). Seven years after experts called for stricter guidelines in antibiotic importing, a federal task force dominated by the livestock industry is recommending that Health Canada keep the loophole in place for another two years.
CMAJ says the loophole allows meat producers to bring in an estimated $100 million of medications into Canada each year - medications that include some not approved for use in Canada. Representatives of the livestock industry want the federal government to conduct a pilot study for two more years to evaluate the possibility of placing limited restrictions on the imports.
Most antibiotics used by meat producers are given to healthy animals to control disease outbreaks, or accelerate growth. The food industry says the practice is necessary in order to keep Canadian companies competitive with their U.S. and foreign counterparts. But health industry experts point out that antibiotic-resistant bacteria in meats are contributing to higher levels of drug resistance in humans.
The current rule allows import of a 90-day supply of unapproved drugs for use on the importer's own animals. CMAJ says the Task Force on Own-Use Importation of Veterinary Drugs had "quietly" released a report in December, posted on Health Canada's website, asking for extensions on antibiotic research.
According to Dr. Donald Low, chief microbiologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and co-author of the 2002 report recommending Health Canada stop the imports, the report shows "no concern for the issue of human resistance to antibiotics. It's not mentioned in the document. It's not an agenda item."
Jean Szkotnicki, president of the Canadian Animal Health Institute and a member of the task force, says the government should immediately require registration of all imported drugs. "Canadians would be surprised and up in arms to learn that a significant amount of drugs used in food animal production today are not licensed by Health Canada," she said.
The task force's final report was published on December 30, and was open for a nine-week consultation period. A link to the report on Health Canada's website was not functioning for five weeks, and was only corrected after CMAJ inquired about it.
The use of antibiotics for growth acceleration has been banned in Europe for three years, in part due to concerns that the practice facilitates the breeding of drug-resistant bacteria.