Antibiotic resistance is not a new issue. There have been concerns about antibiotic resistance since the late ‘60s, but in the last few years it has come to the forefront.  Mark Williams of Bader Rutter told a group at the World Pork Expo June 4 that is more of a marketing issue than a health issue.

“The use or non-use of antibiotics is being used by food companies as a brand differentiator,” said Williams. “So this is not a health issue as much as it is a marketing ploy and consumer benefit.”  

Williams said major companies such as Nestle and McDonald's are now trying to catch up with niche brands such as Whole Foods and Chipotle.

“These brands are catering to a new sense of wholesomeness,” said Williams. “Food that is more authentic, natural and old fashioned is a wonderful image for consumers. They are looking for less artificial and processed food.”

Williams thinks that consumer sentiment on antibiotic-free food is not changing as much as marketers are making everyone believe. He showed studies on consumer attitudes toward antibiotics in food made in 2004 and 2014 that showed very little change. But he said the issue is now a marketing ploy and that isn’t going to change. “Because the marketers are clamoring for change, it will happen,” says Williams.

That pressure from change has led to the release of the Veterinary Feed Directive from the FDA and the White House Forum on Antibiotic Stewardship held June 2.     

Williams, who is a public relations consultant for the National Pork Board, said the issue of antibiotic use is a different type of situation than the industry has faced in the past. “This involves government regulation, it involves human health and food safety and crosses all species,” he said.