The ban on antibiotic growth promoters has produced a number of practical problems in Europe — and the U.S. can expect similar results, says a Michigan State veterinarian.

For 25 years, the pork industry has used science to validate the use of antibiotics in food production, says Barbara Straw, DVM, professor of Veterinary Medicine, Michigan State University.

Activist groups have challenged the science, theorizing that banning antibiotic growth promotants (AGPs) in food-producing animals will reduce the level of drug-resistant infections in people.

Pressure from these activists has led to a ban on AGPs in Europe. Straw suggests U.S. producers may be next.

A ban on AGPs would accelerate the growth of large farms, says Straw. The 40,000 smallest hog farms won't be impacted by a ban because they hardly use any antibiotics. A number of large hog farms have already dropped AGPs from grow-finish rations, and will drop them from nursery feed.

The group most affected will be the 10,000, one-site, farrow-to-finish hog farms with 100-200 sows that have older facilities and use continuous-flow production. Growth rates will decline by 16% in the nursery and 10% in the grower, with no loss of growth in the finisher. It will take two weeks longer to market.

Consequences, Options

The AGP ban in Europe has produced three outcomes:

  • Increased disease among swine, especially in weaned pigs;

  • Greater amounts of antibiotics to treat disease outbreaks, and

  • Failure to reduce the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant infection in humans.

There are options to using AGPs — but not always good ones, Straw says. Probiotics provide an alternative to antibiotics. Producers can use more vaccines, adopt older weaning ages, replace older facilities, look for more finisher space for slow growers.

Some large producers have designated a portion of production as antibiotic-free. “These units can do well for a while,” Straw observes. “But one time in 10 they will get hit really hard and they need to have an action plan in place.” These units end up using more vaccines for diseases like ileitis and Actinobacillus pleuropneumonia.

A ban on AGPs also means more government regulations. Feedmills in Europe have to submit regular, monthly reports of medicated feed sales, and veterinarians must approve and monitor farm use of all antibiotics, she says.

Straw spoke at the Midwest Swine Nutrition Conference in Indianapolis, IN.

Effects of Beef Drug Ban

The Agriculture Department's Economic Research Service has recently released a report, “Economic Effects of a Ban Against Antimicrobial Drugs Used in U.S. Beef Production.”

The report by K.H. Mathews Jr. points out that the U.S. has considered partial bans as a precaution against the spread of resistant pathogens from animals to humans or vice versa.

The article compares changes in livestock cost of production for three scenarios: all antimicrobial drugs are banned from livestock feed, no drugs are banned and some drugs are banned.

The author suggests a ban would increase livestock production costs because feed costs rise due to reduced feed efficiency, lower growth rates and increased management and labor requirements.

The report can be found at