by Kevin Waetke

Consumer interest in how food is produced has never been higher, leading the National Pork Board to continue its outreach to affirm the pork industry’s commitment to antibiotic stewardship. In the first half of the year, the Pork Checkoff staged three unique events to underscore the real change occurring on pig farms today.

“There is real change happening across the country, and we want people to understand the commitment pork producers have to antibiotic stewardship and continuous improvement in animal welfare,” said John Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Pork Board.

“For nearly two years, we have been educating farmers about antibiotic stewardship, investing in research and helping prepare for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new antibiotic use rules that took effect Jan. 1,” Johnson said. “Hands down, it has been the Checkoff’s largest producer education campaign.”

“We’re committed to defining the ideal balance of the right medicine, in the right, dose, at the right time for our pigs.”
– Michele Sprague, DVM

Leading the Way

The first event of 2017 took center stage at the annual producer update session of the National Pork Industry Forum in Atlanta. Real Change: A Live Discussion of On-Farm Antibiotic Use brought together experts in pork production, retail and animal care and welfare for a live, web-based broadcast.

During the 30-minute program – viewed online at RealChangeOnFarms.org by more than 60,000 people – experts discussed the pork industry’s leadership in responsible antibiotic use and how it has implemented FDA’s new guidelines.

FDA guidances 209 and 213 end the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and increase veterinarian oversight for on-farm antibiotic use through the veterinary feed directive and prescriptions. All human medically important antibiotics administered to pigs in feed and water must have direct veterinarian oversight.

This has created strong veterinary-client-patient relationships between farmers and their vets. Pig management and biosecurity steps are being taken to increase the health of pigs and reducing the need for antibiotics.

“We’ve always been committed to continuous improvement, especially regarding responsible antibiotic use,” said Brad Greenway, a Mitchell, South Dakota, pork producer and the 2017 America’s Pig Farmer of the Year.

“We have a great relationship with our vet, with regular check-ins to ensure we’re raising pigs safely and effectively,” Greenway said. “Our vet prescribes antibiotics only when medically necessary for our pigs’ well-being.”

Veterinary, Human Medicine Play Joint Roles

Panelists Michele Sprague, with AMVC, Audubon, Iowa; and South Dakota farmers Brad and Peggy Greenway (right) discuss on-farm antibiotic use changes with moderator Phil Lempert, Supermarket Guru.
In April, the Pork Checkoff participated in the annual Global Ag Investing forum in New York City. Johnson shared the stage with physician Steve Solomon, formerly with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and retail economist Len Steiner.

The CDC estimates that 47 million yearly human prescriptions are not medically necessary.

“Antibiotics will and should continue to be used in human and veterinary medicine, but physicians and veterinarians need better information on the epidemiology and microbiology of infections,” said Solomon, now a public health consultant.

“This understanding will allow them to become better stewards of antibiotics in an era where one-third of human health prescriptions written by physicians are unnecessary,” Solomon said. “We need to first unravel the chain of what causes antibiotic resistance.”

Economist Len Steiner acknowledged that the highest consumer hurdle is often the rising cost of meat carrying “antibiotic-free” claims.

“Antibiotic-free pork will always cost more than conventional pork to produce,” Steiner said. “The chance of the industry moving to all antibiotic-free production is very close to zero due to this cost and to animal welfare. Farmers and consumers alike need to know animals are cared for with medicine rather than left to die.”

Farm Tour Opens Dialog

In May, the National Pork Board welcomed 20 journalists from news media outlets to tour Iowa Select’s new sow farm near Humeston, Iowa. The four-day, all-agriculture immersion introduced the journalists to pork production and carcass fabrication.

“The bottom line on this complex issue is that antibiotic resistance is a shared responsibility, and we all have a role to play,” Johnson said. “We need to continue to share that pork producers are committed to using antibiotics carefully to protect the health of pigs and that healthy pigs make safe food.”