American pig farmers have a long history of doing what's best for their animals, their customers and their communities. This commitment is a good fit with the goals of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) annual celebration: Get Smart About Antibiotics Week, which concludes Nov. 20. Pig farmers’ mission demonstrates why it's so critical to use antibiotics wisely to safeguard the health and well-being of people, animals and the environment.
"The Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is a good time to reflect on our long history of accomplishments in the antibiotics area, such as using these medications responsibly and embracing the updated Pork Quality Assurance Plus certification program," said National Pork Board President Jan Archer, a pig farmer from North Carolina. "As pig farmers, we are aware of the challenge of antibiotic resistance and are dedicated to working hard to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics, both on the farm and in human medicine."
According to the CDC, the 2016 Get Smart About Antibiotics Week marks an important year because Congress has allocated $160 million in new funding for the agency to implement its activities listed in the National Action Plan for Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (CARB). The CDC is using this funding to accelerate outbreak detection and prevention, to support innovative research and to inform providers and the public about antibiotic resistance and appropriate antibiotic use.
"The single most important action to slow the development and spread of antibiotic-resistant infections is for every one of us to improve the way antibiotics are prescribed and used," said Dr. Lauri Hicks, director for the CDC's Office of Antibiotic Stewardship. "If we don't take better care of the antibiotics we have today—if we aren't better stewards of them—we may lose these antibiotics and the next ones that come along."
The National Pork Board's three-point antibiotic stewardship plan, announced in mid-2015, focuses on promoting research, increasing pig farmer education and communicating with consumers in 2016 and beyond. The Antibiotic Resource Center at pork.org/antibiotics is an example of efforts to assist farmers and others who want to learn more about responsible on-farm antibiotic use.
National dialogue on the antibiotic challenge
In another demonstration of its commitment to this complex issue, the National Pork Board hosted a national dialogue earlier this year called Resistance: The Antibiotic Challenge. The Washington, D.C., event brought together key opinion leaders from human health, animal health, government, pharmaceutical, retail and consumer segments to discuss the challenge of responsible antibiotic use in the 21st century. Another joint dialog occurred earlier in November, when the National Pork Board and the American Public Health Association discussed the shared responsibility of reducing the need for antibiotics.
"We are always seeking ways to do what's right for our animals, our consumers and the environment," Archer said. "We are looking for new ways to reduce the overall need for antibiotics, but we need to retain them as essential tools for veterinarians who work hand-in-hand with farmers to raise healthy livestock and produce safe food."
Financially, the farmer-led board has invested more than $6 million in Pork Checkoff funds in antibiotic-related research since 2000, with $750,000 spent this year alone in five research priority areas specifically aimed at reducing antibiotic resistance and finding antibiotic alternatives.
"Real change is underway on pig farms across America, with farmers and their veterinarians shaping the discussion around responsible antibiotic use," Archer said. "As the FDA prepares to implement the new, more stringent rules, such as the upcoming ban on using medically important antibiotics for growth promotion in food animals, we'll be ready."
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