Pork Checkoff leads investment in antibiotic research

By Mike King

For America’s 60,000 pig farmers, 2017 was a year that not only brought new antibiotic rules, but saw a new level of producer engagement and professionalism in the industry’s ongoing work on antibiotic stewardship.

Up to the Challenge

“Real change happened on pig farms across the country in 2017 in response to the new FDA guidance and to efforts to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics,” said Dave Pyburn, D.V.M., senior vice president of science and technology for the Pork Checkoff.

“For the past two years, the U.S. pork industry has continuously improved its stewardship of medically important antibiotics by ending their use for growth promotion,” Pyburn said. “Producers also are committed to increased veterinarian oversight above what was already occurring on farms.”

“We are dedicated to working hard to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, both on the farm and in human medicine.”
– National Pork Board President Terry O’Neel

According to Pyburn, the National Pork Board has not heard of any instances where the FDA had to take enforcement action on a pork farm due to the new antibiotic use rules.

“This reinforces that pig farmers are instituting the new policies on their farms and are following the labels on any antibiotics that they do need to use to treat illness or to prevent the spread of disease in pigs,” he said.

Along with updating longtime programs such as the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus, the Pork Checkoff continues to seek new ways to foster greater antibiotic stewardship. Pork Board President Terry O’Neel, Friend, Nebraska, points to ongoing collaboration with academia, governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations as an example of being a leader in solving the complex global issue of antibiotic resistance.

“As pig farmers, we are keenly aware of the issue of antibiotic resistance,” O’Neel said. “We are dedicated to working hard to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, both on the farm and in human medicine.”

The Pork Board has approved a Checkoff investment of more than $6 million for antibiotic-related studies since 2000, including novel work on antibiotic usage standards and metrics.

“We’re serious about doing our part to curb antibiotic resistance,” O’Neel said.

The Pork Checkoff also has been active in its mission of education and outreach about how America’s pig farmers are progressing on antibiotic stewardship.

A Year of Action

During 2017, the Pork Board hosted a live webcast that brought together experts in farming, veterinarian medicine, retail and foodservice. The event drew more than 60,000 online viewers, with 400 pork producers in the studio audience. To view a replay, go to RealChangeOnFarms.org.

The Pork Checkoff also participated in a panel discussion at the annual Global Ag Investing conference in New York City to address the shared responsibility of antibiotic use in both animal and human health. Closer to home, the Pork Board hosted an Iowa farm tour with 20 National Press Foundation journalist fellows.

From a producer perspective, O’Neel said 2017 was a major milestone in antibiotic stewardship, with farmers taking proactive steps in pig management and biosecurity. He pointed out that these efforts increased the health of pigs and reduced the need for antibiotics.

“Implementation of the new rules on antibiotic use succeeded because pig farmers were aware of the coming changes well ahead of implementation,” Pyburn said. “Many farmers already were moving to increased stewardship of antibiotics and closer veterinary oversight of pig health protocols prior to the implantation of the FDA guidance.”

While 2017 was successful on the antibiotic stewardship front, Pyburn advises producers to continue to review their farm protocols with an eye toward reducing the overall need for antibiotics. This can be through providing a clean and comfortable pig-rearing environment, following enhanced biosecurity protocols, providing good nutrition, administering vaccinations and checking animals to ensure their health.

“Before 2017, some detractors expected chaos on our farms, but we proved them wrong,” O’Neel said. “America’s pig farmers did what we always have done. We practiced good antibiotic stewardship, demonstrating our ongoing dedication to doing what’s right for people, pigs and the planet. It’s a commitment that doesn’t change.”