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Cattle farmers say new antibiotics prescription rules will be costly

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New federal rules kicking in on Dec. 1 will set limits on farmers’ abilities to procure antibiotics for their livestock, a move intended to curb antibiotic resistance in humans and animals, and provide more oversight by veterinary professionals.

But some producers are concerned it will just become more expensive to care for their herds.

Since 2014, the World Health Organization has recommended countries take measures that would curb antibiotics resistance. The WHO defines it as the ability of micro-organisms such as bacteria to stop antimicrobials from working against them.

The organization says that resistance can transfer to humans through meat ingestion or handling treated animals, making it a “big threat to global health.”

In 2017, WHO conducted a large-scale review of different studies that showed reducing antibiotics led to decreased prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in animals by about 15 per cent, and multidrug-resistant bacteria by 24 to 32 per cent.

The same review noted “the evidence of effect on human beings was more limited and less robust.”

Under the impending Health Canada regulation, about 300 products will only become available to farmers once they get a prescription from a veterinarian.

Depending on the province, farmers will then have to buy those antibiotics from either the prescribing veterinarian, a pharmacy or a feed mill.

Worries about impact

Mandatory vet visits are a concern for Darlene Stein, who owns 600 sheep at Oxbow Ranch near Barrhead, Alta., about 120 km northwest of Edmonton.

“In the case of minor species like sheep, it’s a little more challenging than, for example, a beef cow,” Stein said.

Stein’s farm has a flock of about 600 sheep, and produces about 800 lambs per year. (Terry Reith/CBC News)

With meat sold by the pound, she estimated a single sheep is only worth about $200 to $300 — or about the cost of going to see the veterinarian. As a point of comparison, she said, “It’s pretty easy to justify loading up a cow [into a truck], that’s worth $2,500, to take to the vet.”

Stein is also concerned about the scarcity of veterinarians, pointing out there aren’t that many who care for small ruminants. The Alberta Lamb Producers group maintains a list of 24 veterinarians who have expressed an interest in caring for that type of animal across the province. Meanwhile, Stein estimated there are around 1,800 lamb producers in Alberta.

She also pointed out the rules may leave room for possible conflict of interest among veterinarians. In Alberta, they would be in a position to both prescribe and sell medication.

“It opens the door for the opportunity to manipulate for personal gain,” Stein said. “There are people that don’t have maybe the most … benevolent intentions, and maybe they would be more about the financial gain.”

Stein is accustomed to purchasing antibiotics and treating animals herself. She’ll soon be required to get a veterinary prescription. (Terry Reith/CBC)

Some rules different according to province

That arrangement does not exist everywhere in Canada. Though the regulation is federal, it affects provinces differently.

In B.C., as long as farmers have a veterinarian’s prescription, they will be able to buy antibiotics from veterinary pharmacies and medicated feed from a feed mill.

Saskatchewan has only one veterinary pharmacy, so farmers will have to buy their prescription drugs from veterinary clinics.

In Quebec, the federal change won’t mean much due to similar existing laws. Producers there can take veterinary prescriptions for antibiotics to regular pharmacies, provided the latter have the stock to dispense, and they can pick up medicated feed from feed mills, as long as they have prescriptions.

In Ontario, farmers will depend on veterinarians for distribution. Legislation allows for veterinary pharmacies, but none currently exist.

Veterinarians defend changes

Veterinary associations are welcoming the changes.

The Ontario Medical Veterinary Association co-created a website underlining the importance of the new rules, noting “without action, this growing threat will continue to affect our ability to treat human and animal illnesses with the drugs we are used to using.”

The group’s Quebec counterpart praised Canada for taking these steps in a recent letter to the editor in the French-language newspaper Le Devoir. It noted Quebec enacted similar legislation in 1984.

Veterinarian Trevor Hook, who works in Ponoka, Alta., and conducts livestock checkups, is a fan of the stronger oversight.

“If we don’t have antibiotics to treat these infections, then people could potentially die,” Hook said.

Ponoka, Alta., veterinarian Trevor Hook believes there needs to be stronger oversight of how antibiotics are used in livestock. (Peter Evans/CBC)

He added veterinarians are better qualified to prescribe the right antibiotics in proper dosage than store clerks who can currently dispense them, simply because of their formal education and training.

“I think [a veterinarian’s] advice is much more valuable and will be in the interest of public health and the welfare and state of the producers’ farm,” Hook said.

He did acknowledge the potential for conflicts of interest in jurisdictions where veterinarians would both prescribe and sell medication.

Vendors unhappy

In Alberta, restricting who can dispense the medication means removing it from the hands of those currently selling it.

The farming stores run by the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA) have started receiving less inventory over the last year in anticipation of the change, and they are not happy about it.

“We actually do support increased oversight by veterinarians,” said Rob Giguere, vice-president of commercial agribusiness for UFA. “What we have issue with is the limiting of the dispensing of these products to just veterinarians and pharmacists.”

Giguere pointed out there are already some checks and balances in place in the province to prevent abuse. UFA stores are officially licensed to sell antibiotics products, and whoever buys them must have government-issued identification numbers as well.

Rob Giguere, vice president of agribusiness at United Farmers of Alberta, expects antibiotic dispensing changes will lead to higher costs, especially for smaller producers. (Terry Reith/CBC)

“When you limit where you can buy product, you would expect tighter supply, higher prices,” Giguere said. He also cited livestock producers’ concerns for establishing new relationships with veterinarians. “[Veterinarians] have to go out and assess the herd, and producers are being charged for that.”

“I think that prices are going to affect everybody,” he said. “Where it’s really going to hurt the most are the smaller producers.”

Additional reporting by Terry Reith

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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