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NPB: Pork farmers still focused on responsible antibiotic stewardship

FRIEND, Neb. — U.S. hog producers are continuing to focus on antibiotic stewardship, according to the National Pork Board (NPB), which has been leading an effort this year to invest in antibiotic research.

“As pig farmers, we are aware of issues such as antibiotic resistance, and we are dedicated to working hard to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, both on the farm and in human medicine,” said Terry O’Neel, NPB president and a Friend, Neb., producer.

The Food and Drug Administration’s full implementation of its FDA guidances 209 and 213 ends the use of antibiotics for growth promotion and increases veterinarian oversight for on-farm antibiotic use through the Veterinary Feed Directive and prescriptions.

Under the new rule, all human antibiotics administered to pigs in feed and water must have direct veterinarian oversight, which NPB officials said strengthens an already strong veterinary-client-patient relationship between farmers and their veterinarians. According to officials, both also take proactive pig management and biosecurity steps to increase the health of pigs and reduce the need for antibiotics.

From Nov. 13-19, the Des Moines-based National Pork Board marked U.S. Antibiotic Awareness Week and World Antibiotic Awareness Week, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). O’Neel said that week was “a good time for those of us in the pork industry to reflect on our long history of accomplishments with antibiotics, such as using these medications responsibly and embracing the updated Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) certification program.”

This year, the CDC changed the name of its educational outreach to Be Antibiotics Aware, a national effort focusing on helping to fight antibiotic resistance and improving antibiotic prescribing and use. Currently, the agency estimates at least 80 million antibiotic prescriptions each year are unnecessary for human patients, which the NPB said makes improving antibiotic prescribing and use a national priority.

“Antibiotic resistance is a public health issue with numerous contributors across human, animal and environmental health,” said Heather Fowler, DVM, NPB director of producer and public health. “Because of this, pig farmers understand the key role they and their herd veterinarians play as part of the overall One Health, multi-disciplinary approach to antibiotic stewardship.”

She explained ongoing collaboration with academia, governmental agencies and non-governmental organizations is the best way to move forward in solving the complex global issue of antibiotic resistance.

Since 2000, the NPB approved a pork checkoff investment of more than $6 million for antibiotic-related studies, which includes “novel work on antibiotic usage standards and metrics.” NPB officials said the checkoff has been active in its ongoing mission of education and outreach to all audiences about how America’s pig farmers are continuing with antibiotic stewardship.

During 2017, the NPB hosted a live webcast that brought together experts in farming, veterinarian medicine and the retail and foodservice industries, which drew more than 60,000 online viewers, with 400 pork producers in the studio audience.

O’Neel said 2017 has been another milestone in antibiotic stewardship, with farmers taking even more proactive steps in pig management and biosecurity.

“While some of our detractors may have been expecting chaos on our farms, we proved them wrong,” he said. “America’s pig farmers simply did what we always have done. We stepped up and demonstrated our competency to practice good antibiotic stewardship.”

O’Neel said he recently completed the USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System survey on his farm, which reviewed written antibiotic-use records from July-December 2016. During the survey with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture veterinarian, it showed he had reduced his antimicrobial use.

“We’ve improved our herd health practices on our farm and are already seeing a reduced need for antibiotics, all while improving our pigs’ health,” O’Neel said. “Third parties who try to evaluate antibiotic-use policies do not account for or understand the real change underway on today’s farms.”

He said veterinarians and farmers are working every day to protect the health and welfare of their pigs, and reduce antibiotic use. “It is truly a delicate balance for America’s pig farmers, and it is perplexing when others try to set arbitrary limits on antibiotic use that are actually detrimental to animal health, the environment and food safety.”

On Nov. 7, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended farmers and the food industry stop using antibiotics routinely to “promote growth and prevent disease in healthy animals.” WHO stated its new recommendations aim to help preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.

According to the agency, overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals and humans is contributing to the rising threat of antibiotic resistance, adding “some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments, and there are very few promising options in the research pipeline.”

In an official statement, the National Pork Producers Council said the pork industry’s goal is to reduce the need for antibiotics, “and it has devoted time and resources to that end, including adopting good antibiotic stewardship practices and studying alternatives to antibiotics.

“Simply reducing on-farm uses of antibiotics as the WHO suggests, however, likely would have no effect on public health and would jeopardize animal health.”