Changes to On-Farm Antibiotic Use Take Center Stage

by Mike King

Ask a pork producer or swine veterinarian and they will attest to the value that antibiotics often have at the farm level to help keep livestock healthy and disease-free. However, that’s not often the typical discussion associated with this herd health tool today.More likely, conversation or a news report centers on consumer views or upcoming regulatory changes and new challenges that livestock producers are facing. Fortunately, the National Pork Board, led by its producer leaders, has been taking steps to help address all of these challenges and the changes related to on-farm antibiotic use.

“The pork industry has long been a leader in directing and funding antibiotic research, from the causes and transmission of antibiotic resistance to identifying alternative products or practices to help minimize antibiotic use,” said Jennifer Koeman, DVM, Pork Checkoff’s director of producer and public health.

“The Pork Checkoff also shares related information and research with U.S. retailers and foodservice companies,” she added.

The Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new policy for on-farm use of medically important (to treat human illness) antibiotics is scheduled to begin in December 2016 (see story sidebar). The final rule, published June 2, includes details on how the veterinary feed directive (VFD) requirement will affect producers, feedmills and veterinarians as they produce and use medicated feed. The final rule also spells out the specifics about how antibiotics used in water will require a veterinary prescription.


Preparing for Changes

“Pork producers need to realize that growth promotion use of medically important antibiotics will go away,” said Brad Greenway, a Mitchell, South Dakota, pork producer and past National Pork Board member. “It won’t affect all antibiotics, but there will be changes in both feed and water medication for farms of all sizes.”

Specifically, Greenway is referring to FDA’s Guidance for Industry 209, 213 and VFD.

“Just as we’ve always done,” Greenway said, “we will adapt and be well positioned to move forward, but not without solid preparation. That means staying informed and learning how FDA’s changes will affect production at the farm level so that strategies for success can be implemented.”

Once in place, the new rule will mean that producers will have to work with their veterinarians even more closely on such things as getting access to certain antibiotics when needed to treat animals. He advises producers to strengthen their relationship with their veterinarian now if needed, and for those who don’t have a regular relationship with a veterinarian, to start that process now.


Records Will Be Key

Record keeping will be a cornerstone to the new regulations. Greenway advises producers to document the antibiotics currently being used and to look for ways to strengthen herd-health records. Producers who have completed a Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) site assessment should be well-versed in keeping detailed records, Greenway said.

To learn more on key action steps to take today, refer to the most recent Pork Checkoff Report newsletter at


Building Trust

“Having a comprehensive, well-planned strategy to embrace changes in antibiotic use will help define our industry’s trust level going forward,” said National Pork Board CEO Chris Hodges. “Consumers are focused on their food and the role antibiotics play in meat production.”

Hodges points to the outreach and education efforts surrounding antibiotics that the Pork Checkoff is spearheading to various audiences, including packers, retailers and national media. The common message is to explain how U.S. pork producers are responsible stewards of antibiotics and work closely with their veterinarians to ensure pig health and well-being.

“Consumers have high standards and a growing need for transparency,” said Jarrod Sutton, vice president of social responsibility and food chain innovation for the Pork Checkoff.


Retailers Want Facts

“Food retailers are on the frontlines working hard to meet consumer demands before competitors do,” Sutton said. “As a result, food companies are asking more questions about production practices that ensure humane treatment of food animals, reducing the carbon footprint and above all else ensuring safe food. Of course, responsible antibiotic use can improve all of these.”

Sutton said it’s important that all parts of the industry work to instill confidence in customers through a shared commitment to continuous improvement. This is demonstrated in programs such as PQA Plus® and ongoing Checkoff-funded research aimed at better understanding antibiotic resistance and related issues.

“With the help of our pork-chain customers, we can continue to build on the education and outreach we’ve already done to foster a greater trust from consumers,” Sutton said. “And that’s a good thing for us all.”

FDA’s New Antibiotic Guidance Set to Debut in December 2016

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking a new approach on the judicious use of medically important (to treat human illness) antibiotics in food-animal production. It involves voluntary cooperation by all sectors. Here’s a snapshot of FDA’s timeline to implement these changes.

Guidance 209: In 2010, FDA outlined its intent and recommendations regarding growth-promotion uses of medically important antibiotics in food-animal production. This action applies to both feed-grade and water-based antibiotics. FDA also specified that veterinarian oversight will increase for the remaining therapeutic applications (prevention, treatment and control) of medically important antibiotics.
Guidance 213: On Dec. 11, 2013, FDA initiated a three-year transition process to complete its food-animal antibiotic strategy. This action requests animal-health companies to outline intentions to voluntarily remove any production/growth-promotion uses from product labels of medically important antibiotics. The guidance also eliminates over-the-counter status of these medications and increases veterinary oversight for on-farm therapeutic use by requiring a veterinarian feed directive (VFD) for feed applications and a prescription for water treatments. December 2016 is the deadline for this guidance to be completed and implementation to begin.
Final VFD Rule: On June 2, 2015, the FDA published the final VFD rule. This is part of the agency’s overall strategy to promote the judicious use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals. This strategy will bring the use of these drugs under veterinary supervision so that they are used only when necessary for assuring animal health. The final VFD rule outlines the process for authorizing use of VFD drugs (animal drugs intended for use in or on animal feed that require the supervision of a licensed veterinarian) and provides veterinarians in all states with a framework for authorizing the use of medically important antimicrobials in feed when needed for specific animal health purposes.
Compounds Not Included: Antibiotics of interest to pork producers that will not be affected by FDA’s new policy include bacitracin, tiamulin, carbadox, bambermycin and narasin. For a list of affected products, go to


Antibiotic Principles Outlined in PQA Plus®

Principle I: Take appropriate steps to decrease the need for the application of antibiotics.

Principle 2: Assess the advantages and disadvantages of all uses of antibiotics.

Principle 3: Use antibiotics only when they will provide measurable benefits.

Principle 4: Fully implement management practices described for responsible use of animal health products into daily operations.

Principle 5: Have a working veterinarian/client/patient relationship and follow the responsible antibiotic use guidelines.


National Pork Board’s Position on Antibiotics

During its June board meeting, the National Pork Board approved the following position statement on antibiotics. To learn more specifics on a variety of antibiotic-related issues, go to

America’s pig farmers have always been dedicated to raising healthy animals to help ensure a safe food supply. The use of antibiotics as part of an overall herd health plan is important to delivering on this commitment. Pig farmers recognize the critical importance of using antibiotics responsibly in animals and humans to protect the health and well-being of both as they strive to reduce the overall need for antibiotics and maintain the efficacy of them for future generations.

The National Pork Board, through its Pork Checkoff, supports objective, scientifically rigorous studies and risk assessments to help farmers make informed decisions regarding use of antibiotics in food animals and to build upon efforts to continuously improve antibiotic use best practices. The board also supports veterinarian oversight and best practices, as outlined in the long-established Pork Quality Assurance®Plus certification program, promotes education as an essential component of antibiotic stewardship and strongly encourages compliance with all regulatory requirements.

America’s pig farmers are committed to advancing knowledge that benefits people, pigs and the planet. This includes addressing concerns about the emergence of antibiotic resistance in both animal and human medicine. For this reason, the National Pork Board is expanding its collaboration with veterinarians, food-chain partners and government agencies to develop a comprehensive, fact-based approach that aligns with its farmers’ key values.