The Shared Responsibility of Antibiotic Resistance

As a pork producer, you instinctively know that taking care of your animals is not only your responsibility, but your obligation. When you take care of your pigs the old axiom holds that “they’ll take care of you.” The same concept is true when thinking about responsible antibiotic use on the farm. You already know it’s your duty to use antibiotics responsibly, but the reason for doing so may not be as clear.

Residues and Resistance: Know the Difference

One of the main reasons that Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) was created (originally called Pork Quality Assurance) nearly 30 years ago was to reduce the incidence of violative levels of antibiotic residues in pork at packing plants.

A violative residue occurs when a tissue sample taken at the slaughter plant is tested for select drugs and is found by the USDA inspectors to be above the FDA’s maximum residue level (MRL) for the specific drug residue detected. This could happen if the proper withdrawal time is not observed before sending pigs to market or possibly when an incorrect dosage of an antibiotic is administered.

“If they haven’t already done so, producers should sit down with their veterinarians and determine what they need to do to comply with the new veterinary feed directive (VFD) and prescription requirement for water-based medications.” – Jennifer Koeman, DVM, Pork Checkoff

With the industry’s great percentage of producers and pig caretakers certified through PQA Plus, and through closer guidance by swine veterinarians, the occurrence of residue violations in pork is extremely rare today. However, producers must maintain strict vigilance by observing all labeled withdrawal times of antibiotics to ensure food safety to build consumer trust.

For more information about Maximum Residue Levels, go to: www.pork.org/MRL.

Antibiotic resistance is a completely different topic from residues and is generating the most interest. While combating violative residues is relatively straightforward, addressing antibiotic resistance is not.

Antibiotic Resistance

For a start, the potential development of antibiotic resistance is a complex issue. Animal health and public health experts are in agreement that antibiotic resistance has occurred for millennia, completely independent of human involvement and the advent of modern-day antibiotics. However, the use of antibiotics, whether in human health, animal health or agriculture, applies potential selection pressures for the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Fortunately, there are still steps that both human and animal health professionals can take to help reduce the need for antibiotic use and to ensure that when antibiotics are used, they are used responsibly to maintain effective antibiotics for both animal and human health.

The main issue with antibiotic resistance is the negative impact it can have on human health and animal health. Specifically, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are ones that may not respond to treatment, if and when, they cause illness. Because of this possibility, it’s important that all people do what they can to minimize this risk by maintaining their own health by practicing good food-safety practices when handling and preparing all types of food.

Because antibiotic resistance is a global concern of both human and animal health, the “One Health” initiative continues to grow as a worldwide umbrella approach to combat antibiotic resistance. This is a collaborative effort of multiple stakeholders to attain optimal health for people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants and the environment. Medical doctors and patients, veterinarians and farmers, along with government, academia and industry stakeholders, are working together to address this issue.

Pork producers play an important role in the shared effort to use antibiotics responsibly to help minimize the potential emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria and to maintain effective antibiotics for animal and human health. In the end, this comprehensive and inclusive approach will create a win-win by protecting human and animal health.

To stay informed on all antibiotic-related information, go to: www.pork.org/antibiotics.