Logic vs. Fear: Antibiotic Issue Draws Passionate Response

Choose logic over fear when it comes to antibiotics in pork production.

When it comes to the use of antibiotics in pork production, some things boil down to simple logic. We all know that appropriate antibiotic use can keep both animals and humans healthy. We also know that only antibiotics approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are used to treat hogs, and that veterinarians oversee which antibiotics are used to treat, prevent and control swine diseases. Healthy pigs grow better and eat less feed. And healthy pigs are directly related to a safer food supply. Of course, veterinarians work closely with farmers to make decisions on which pigs may need antibiotics to treat or prevent disease. Remember, those antibiotics do come at a cost, which means pork producers focus on preventing the need and expense of using antibiotics unnecessarily in their herds. In spite of this simple logic, we still have wild statements about the amount and intent of antibiotic use in pork production flying around in the news. Sadly, it’s all in the wording. Recent news stories and statements seem particularly designed to incite fear among consumers.

This week Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) issued a press release in reaction to the FDA’s 10th National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS) Retail Meat Report for 2011. Slaughter says the report notes increases in antibiotic-resistant bacteria found on retail meats such as ground turkey and chicken. “We are standing on the brink of a public health catastrophe,” Slaughter says. “The threat of antibiotic-resistant disease is real, it is growing and those most at-risk are our seniors and children. We can help stop this threat by drastically reducing the overuse of antibiotics in our food supply, and Congress should act swiftly to do so today.” Rep. Slaughter is the author of the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, legislation that seeks to phase out use of antibiotics in livestock production. According to her press release, Slaughter has called upon the FDA and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to, “take action to improve regulatory oversight, surveillance and monitoring of food-animal production and antibiotic resistance.”

Another report devoted to the antibiotic topic also came out this week. FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine released an annual report summarizing 2011 sales and distribution information about antimicrobial drugs approved for use in food-producing animals. The Animal Drug User Fee Act (ADUFA) requires antimicrobial drug sponsors to report the amount of antimicrobial active ingredients in the drugs they sold or distributed for use in food-producing animals.  Admittedly, these are wordy, complex and somewhat confusing reports. Sadly, data in these reports can be misused as part of what appears to be scare tactics from those who want to eliminate antibiotic use in animals (or are just, plain against eating meat), too. Thank goodness animal agriculture has articulate champions of reason such as Scott Hurd, DVM, associate professor and director of the Food Risk Modeling and Policy Laboratory at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.  In his blog post this week, Hurd highlights the fact that the ADUFA report summarizes sales data and could easily reflect changes in the inventory animal health providers have on-hand, not the actual usage in animals. “FDA is very clear these data cannot be compared to other sources on animal and human use,” Hurd explains. “Some folks try to make these comparisons. FDA says, ‘Don’t go there!’” Read Hurd’s blog post here.

Whew! It gets back to that simple logic again. And rather than getting hysterical, we have to keep in mind that antibiotic use statistics can prove misleading. In a recent Food Safety News opinion piece, Richard Raymond, MD, former undersecretary for food safety at USDA, writes that the oft-cited statistic that 80% of antibiotics sold in the United States are used in animals is highly misleading. Read more about Raymond’s thoughts here.

This week we posted two video interviews on the nationalhogfarmer.com Web site in which Jim McKean, DVM, Iowa State University Extension swine veterinarian, shares suggestions regarding the antibiotic issue with producers at the recent Iowa Pork Congress. Stay tuned for a more in-depth article on this topic in the February 15, 2013 issue of National Hog Farmer. Do you have an antibiotic action plan for your operation? Share your thoughts in the Comments section, or email lora.berg@penton.com to join in the discussion.  You can also register your opinion in our online survey entitled, “What’s your antibiotic action plan?” Learn more about antibiotics in pork production from the Pork Checkoff’s “We Care” Web site at www.porkcares.org

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