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Report: Federal Rules Haven’t Curbed Antibiotic Use In Pork

Healthy sows improve the overall health of the swine herd and reduce the need for antibiotics.

Healthy sows improve the overall health of the swine herd and reduce the need for antibiotics. Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

Federal rules in place since January 2017 have not curbed the use of antibiotics in pork production, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group whose food and environment agenda includes responsible antibiotic use.

Better Bacon: Why it’s high time the U.S. Pork Industry Stopped Pigging Out on Antibiotics” claims farmers continue to use large amounts of antibiotics, despite the Federal Drug Administration’s prohibition on their use for growth promotion. There’s also a requirement that the drugs be administered through a veterinarian.

“Regardless, they’re using the antibiotics now the same way they were before,” said David Wallinga, a doctor and author of the study. “They’re using them at low doses, routinely, added to feed or drinking water. And oftentimes when there’s no sick animals present.”

Wallinga, who is based in Minnesota, was at the World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, this week to coincide with the release of the report.

He said current use allows bacteria to develop resistance to the drugs, which can have devastating impacts on human health because some of the antibiotics used in livestock production are also needed to treat human infections.

David Wallinga of the Natural Resources Defense Council wants the U.S. pork industry to reduce its use of medically important antibiotics.

Photo Credit: Amy Mayer/Harvest Public Media

He wants farmers to see that the use of these antibiotics in hog production drives the problem.

As antibiotic-resistant infections in humans become more common, doctors face the potential of not being able to cure sick people. Hog farmers and those close to hog farms may be particularly vulnerable to exposure to drug-resistant bacteria, according to the report.

Denmark and the Netherlands are examples of countries that produce significant amounts of pork, Wallinga said, and have reduced their dependence on antibiotics.

Many companies that market animal health products, including medications, offer farmers some alternatives to antibiotics.

Des Moines-based Kemin Industries has a whole line focused on “gut health,” which technical services representative Tom Marsteller said works to maintain the health of a herd so the animals are less susceptible to infections that may require antibiotics.

“The end result is better stewardship of our antibiotic use,” Marsteller said. “Use when necessary, when the animals are sick and need the antibiotics, but that means we’ll use less antibiotics in total, which then should be good for animal health and human health long term.”

Marsteller and others also point to vaccinations to protect sows from certain diseases. The protection is passed on to piglets, fostering overall improved health that can help prevent future illnesses and, therefore, reduce the need for antibiotics.

Both Wallinga and Marsteller said consumer pressure on restaurants and grocery stores for meat produced without the use of antibiotics has helped draw attention to the subject and raise producers’ and meat production companies’ interest in finding alternatives.

Follow Amy on Twitter: @AgAmyInAmes