Canadian Animal Health Institute

Food Animal Health

What is an Animal Health Product?

Regulatory Overview

Veterinary Medicines are Strictly Regulated

Animal health products prevent and treat disease, manage pain and help animals turn feed into muscle more efficiently.  Healthy animals contribute to a wholesome and safe food supply.  

To be licensed for sale, animal medications must meet strict requirements of the federal government.  Experts employed by the government act like scientific auditors.  They assess volumes of data generated by product manufacturers to ensure that each product:

  • does what its label says it does (is efficacious),
  • is what the manufacturer says it is,
  • is safe for the animal and the person administering the medication.  Government scientists also make sure that there are safeguards to ensure that meat, milk or eggs produced by a treated animal don’t contain harmful residues.  And just as importantly, that use of the product doesn’t harm the environment.

This is not a simple undertaking.  Bringing a major animal drug to market can take 7 to 10 years of research costing up to $100 million. 

Product Safety

Animal health product manufacturers rely on government scientists to review their findings to support the safety of a product.  Only once teams of Health Canada or the Canadian Food Inspection Agency scientists are satisfied that a manufacturer has demonstrated that a product is safe will a product be authorized for sale.  These pre-market safety assessments continue once a product is approved.  Manufacturers have veterinarians on staff responsible for ‘pharmacovigilence’, which is a continual dialogue between animal owners, veterinarians, the pharmaceutical industry and government regulators if a product acts in a way that was un-anticipated. 

Safety factors are built into every animal health product.  Just one example is a Maximum Residue Limit or MRL.   MRLs are designed to minimize any potential risk from eating food from animals treated with medications.  MRLs are legal thresholds established by regulators outlining the maximum allowable level of residue in a food animal product.  A product with a residue above the MRL is not allowed to enter the food chain.  If below the MRL, there is no harm in consuming the product.  A precautionary approach is taken in establishing MRLs, meaning that an MRL is often thousands of times lower than the level at which any traces of a medicine would have any impact on human health.  For a much more detailed explanation of MRLs, click here

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency randomly tests samples of meat, milk and eggs to ensure that if food from treated animals contains any residue, that it falls below the MRL.  Large fines can be placed upon farmers who sell animals with residues in their meat, milk or eggs; thus consumers can rest assured that their food is safe.

Animal Welfare

Animal health products are a critical component of ensuring animal welfare.  Animal medications provide veterinarians with the necessary tools to help with pain management, disease prevention and treatment.  Animal health products also allow producers to raise animals in close proximity which leads to production efficiencies which keep our food prices down. 

The industry is shifting towards regional (or in some cases global) research laboratories and approaches when developing new animal health medications.  This leads to fewer animals needed for research and development again contributing to better animal welfare.