The purpose of a food safety program on the farm is to reduce biological, chemical and physical risks. One of the areas of a beef operation where food safety problems can occur in beef is during animal health product receiving, processing and treatment of cattle. Biological hazards such as drug-resistant bacteria can occur if animal health products are not used properly or disposed of properly. Chemical hazards such as drug residues can occur during processing or treatment from improper use of animal health products and/ or failure to follow withdrawal periods prior to shipment of cattle. Physical hazards such as broken needles can occur during processing or treatment if good animal handling and injection techniques are not used.
So what can a producer do on the farm to reduce these risks?
1. Purchase only Canadian government-and veterinary-approved animal health products from a reputable supplier. This is to ensure that the products you are using are safe for your animals as well as for beef. Recently, there has been an increase in products sold over the Internet from other countries (e. g. Europe) — “no name brands.” These products are not licensed in Canada and have not been tested for effectiveness or safety, either for animals or human food. It is strongly advised you avoid purchasing products this way because of the risks inherent in such a process.
2. Keep an inventory of all animal health products purchased. This helps to ensure that products are on hand when needed and avoids the carrying costs of stockpiling a lot of additional drugs that can become outdated. It is also a cross-check to ensure that cattle-approved products are purchased.
3. Develop a valid veterinary client-patient relationship (VCR) with your veterinarian to ensure you are using animal health products prudently and according to label directions or veterinary prescriptions for off-label use. A veterinarian is trained in animal health management and can help you manage the health and production of your herd by using sound animal husbandry and medical practices. As issues of “drug resistance” or “superbugs” increase, there will be increasing pressure on veterinarians and producers to show that they are using animal health products prudently. The availability of animal health products for treating cattle is a privilege, not a right. Thus, we need to show the government and public that we are using them judiciously; else, we may lose the ability to use them at all.
4. Develop a standard processing protocol with your veterinarian and keep a written copy on hand so everyone knows what to use and when. If there is a disease or food safety problem, then a written processing protocol can help you track and identify where problems may have occurred, and what changes may have to be made in the future to reduce risks.
5. Develop a standard treatment protocol with your veterinarian, documenting common health concerns and recommended treatments. Keep a written copy easily available so everyone who handles the cattle knows what to treat the cattle with and when. This maximizes the effectiveness of your treatments, reduces unnecessary drug use and guessing, and helps you evaluate later what protocols worked and whether any changes are needed to improve treatment responses.
6. Keep copies of signed veterinary prescriptions in a safe and secure place for any off-label use of animal health products. Offlabel use, or use of products other than as stated on the manufacturer’s label (e.g. use in other species, increasing/decreasing dose, different route of injection) is illegal unless prescribed by a licensed veterinarian.
To protect yourself, should a drug residue problem occur because of off-label use of a drug, it is important to have a copy of the prescription available in any traceback.
7. Reassess processing and treatment protocols at least annually with your veterinarian. After a review of the health of your herd, your processing and treatment protocols can be updated and revised if needed to ensure they match the needs of your herd, to reduce your treatment and disease costs and food safety risks.
8. When processing or treating cattle, follow good animal restraint and injection practices to reduce the risk of broken needles. Use sharp and straight needles. Change them frequently when dull, bent or burred. Use appropriately sized needles for the job at hand (e.g. for intramuscular injections use 16 or 18 g, three-quarter-to one-inch needles; for subcutaneous injections, use 16 or 18 g, one-half-to three-quarter-inch needles; for intravenous injections use 16 or 15 g, two-to four-inch needles).
9. Store and dispose of animal health products according to label directions. Improper storage can result in environmental contamination that can lead to the development of drug-resistant bacteria in the soil and water. As well, drug residues can directly contaminate the water and soil. Separate outdated health products or empty medicine bottles from other garbage. Put used needles and scalpel blades in a designated “sharps” container (e.g. old bleach bottle).
When containers are full, dispose of them at your local veterinarian’s, local hospital, designated landfill site or biomedical waste company, as allowed.
These simple management practices can help ensure the beef we produce is as safe as practically possible.