Antibiotic use on hog farms greatly improves production efficiency and boosts producer profits by 9%, according to a new study from the University of Illinois.

Results were based on grow-finish performance at a 1,020-head finishing barn. Profits from antibiotic use were 59 cents/pig annually.

“Antibiotics used for growth promotion have a positive impact on production efficiency and producer profitability,” says principal investigator Gay Miller, a professor of veterinary pathobiology and agricultural economics.

That means lower prices for consumers and the need for fewer animals to produce the same amount of product, she says.

“Using less resources takes fewer farms to produce the same amount of pork, less manure is generated and you see a reduction of other environmental concerns,” relates Miller.

A previous study by Iowa State University reported the benefits of using antibiotics in hogs to be almost five times higher than the findings of this new research.

However, that study used European data, says Miller. The new study looks just at the U.S. industry which has become concentrated, with larger production units, and made advances in genetics and production methods.

Fellow University of Illinois researcher Paul McNamera, an agricultural economist, says a ban on antibiotics would sharply increase production costs.

“Many analysts speak about subtherapeutic use of antibiotics as if it had no production value at all,” he states. “This view is puzzling to both producers and economists, since antibiotics used in animal agriculture constitute a significant input into the industry. With the competitive pressures producers face, if the input did not provide a significant production benefit, we would expect producers to drop its use in order to save money and realize higher profits.”