Learning from Other Countries about Antibiotics, Sow Stalls

Denmark has dealt with the aftermath of banning growth-promoting and preventative antibiotics. The European Union's ban on sow stalls hasn't worked out as planned, either.

The United States is not the only country wrestling with issues, such as use of both antibiotics in livestock production, and gestation stalls. This week Scott Hurd, DVM, associate professor and director of the Food Risk Modeling and Policy Laboratory at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, makes some valid points about the “rest of the story” after Denmark banned preventive and growth-promoting antibiotics for pigs in 2000. “In over 20 years of food safety research, I have seen quite a few antibiotic-free (ABF) animals, including the famous pigs in Denmark,” he writes in his “Hurd Health” blog. “While working in the processing plant, I could often tell when ABF pigs were coming down the line. The animals from the ABF farms usually appeared somewhat unthrifty. Often there was less uniformity in carcass size and more ‘issues.’”

Hurd goes on to point out that even though some consumers mistakenly believe that conventional animals are raised in a manner that leads to a risk of antibiotics in the meat, results from the National Residue Program show that virtually all U.S. meat harbors no traces of antibiotics in it. Of course, livestock producers know that animals must undergo strict withdrawal periods prior to slaughter to ensure no illegal residues remain at processing. Farmers are significantly penalized, possibly even to the point of losing their ability to market animals, if they do not follow withdrawal periods and are found to be selling meat with illegal residues. “Therefore, since the established antibiotic residue tolerance levels are both safe and monitored, there is no increased public health risk from antibiotics in meat,” Hurd says. “It is “all” antibiotic free.”

Hurd suggests that ABF-raised animals may actually pose the greater risk to human health. “In the absence of effective prevention, animals face greater health challenges that may lead to marginally healthy animals or subclinical illness. My research has shown that subclinical illness is not outwardly obvious to the producer or inspector, but puts animals at risk for carrying increased levels of bacteria responsible for foodborne illness, such as campylobacter and salmonella.” Read more of Hurd’s observations at the “Hurd Health” blog.

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And as for the issue of gestation stalls, the “rest of the story” from the British National Pig Association this week is that seven months after the European Union (EU) introduced a ban on individual sow gestation stalls (with the exception of the first four weeks of pregnancy), half of the EU countries are actually failing to comply with the ban.

According to new data from the European Commission, only 13 member countries are fully compliant—Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Sow stalls have been banned outright in the United Kingdom since 1999.

The British National Pig Association has initiated a campaign to persuade retailers and food companies to pledge they will not import pork and pork products from non-compliant pig farms on the European continent. The British National Pig Association estimated that as many as 40,000 pigs/hour were being delivered to continental processing plants from illegally operated pig farms (still using gestation stalls). Because Britain imports around 60% of its processed pork, there was a fear that British consumers were unwittingly supporting the producers who had not complied with the gestation stall ban. When Britain’s gestation stall ban went into effect, a number of the country’s pork producers exited the industry. Read the story, “EU Countries’ Failure to Meet Sow Stall Ban Irks Brits.”

I find both Hurd’s blog and this EU gestation stall story to be very timely reading for U.S. producers. It’s one thing to champion change, but are consumers truly ready for the outcome? What happens to the U.S. market if cheaper pork comes from offshore? It’s food for thought.


Do you have additional thoughts about antibiotic use or gestation stall stories? Are there other stories we should be bringing to our readers’ attention? Do you have any news and views to add to the mix? Leave your stories or thoughts in the “comments” section below, or email lora.berg@penton.com.

You might also like:

Logic vs. Fear: Antibiotic Issue Draws Passionate Response

Three Gestation Stall Stories in the News This Week

EU Countries’ Failure to Meet Sow Stall Ban Irks Brits

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