The National Pork Board promoted antibiotic stewardship during a live online broadcast event on March 1. “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, pig farmers, veterinarians and National Pork Board officials discussed the U.S. pork industry’s antibiotic use and how it has implemented guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Those guidelines went into effect January 1. Phil Lempert, called the the Supermarket Guru, hosted the program.

“There is very real change happening on the farm, and we want those who care about these issues to understand the commitment that pig farmers have with regard to antibiotic stewardship and continuous improvement in animal welfare,” said John Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Pork Board, in the video. “For nearly two years, we have been educating farmers on antibiotic stewardship, investing in research and helping prepare for these changes. Hands down, it has been our largest pig farmer education campaign ever.”

Federal regulation of pig farm antibiotic use

FDA guidance 209 and 213 ends the use of medically important antibiotics for growth promotion and increases 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 creates a client-patient relationship between pig farmers and their veterinarians.

These same pig farmers and veterinarians also are taking pig management and biosecurity steps that increase the health of pigs and reduce the need for antibiotics.

“We’ve always been committed to a process of continuous improvement in a number of areas, especially regarding responsible antibiotic use,” said Brad Greenway, a pig farmer from South Dakota and the National Pork Board’s Pig Farmer of the Year. “We have a great relationship with our veterinarian, with regular check-ins to make sure we’re operating safely and effectively. It’s only when it is medically necessary for the well-being of the animal that we are prescribed antibiotics.”

Antibiotic resistant pathogens

Another topic addressed during the broadcast relates to antibiotic resistance – a complex issue that affects both veterinary and human medicine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 47 million human prescriptions are not medically necessary, at least 30 percent of all prescriptions written.

“The CDC has warned us that antibiotic resistance is one of the world’s most pressing health problems, and that’s why we’re committed to doing our part in antibiotic stewardship,” said Johnson.

“In the end, we’re committed to defining the ideal balance of the right medicine, in the right dose, at the right time for our pigs,” said Dr. Michelle Sprague, veterinarian and director of sow health at AMVC Management Services.

Pork safety and animal welfare

Shifting to the consumer landscape, the broadcast also focused on consumer concerns about food safety and animal welfare. The use of antibiotics on the farm has drawn increased questions from consumers, and the pork industry is dedicated to encouraging an open dialogue, working with its partners and building confidence in today’s pork supply.

“It’s a shared responsibility, and we all have to do our part to navigate this evolving discussion about antibiotics and providing safe food to our consumers,” said Rick Stein, vice president of fresh foods at Food Marketing Institute. “Organizations like the National Pork Board are getting out there and being stewards of this complicated and evolving issue. The pork industry invites collaboration and constructive criticism among the leaders in food production and distribution.”

A replay of the broadcast can be viewed online at: RealChangeOnFarms.org. For more information on the National Pork Board’s efforts to assist farmers and others who want to learn more about responsible on-farm antibiotic use, visit pork.org/antibiotics.