What is needed from US producers to address antibiotic resistance

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Data collection, new relationships with veterinarians may be needed as US pork producers reduce use of antibiotic and antibiotics in feed.

The discussion about changes in antibiotic use medicine, and swine feed and production was part of a public forum this week on antibiotic resistance hosted by the Atlantic and underwritten by the Pork Checkoff.

The forum participants examined the reasons for addressing bacterial resistance to antibiotics and some of the challenges involved in changing practices.  

The debate involved representatives from multiple organizations including, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), swine producers and companies like Tyson Foods.

Resistance to antibiotics is a health threat, said Beth Bell, director of the National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease at the CDC. “Resistance is such an important problem, and we know that antibiotic overuse drives resistance, this is why we’re so focused on quantifying the problem and implementing strategies to address it.”

“We want to engage in a dialogue with all the stakeholders”, said John Johnson, COO with the National Pork Board of the reason for the forum. “We want to preserve the efficacy of antibiotics. They’re critically important tools in pork production.”

“We want people to know that there is real change happening on the farm,” he told FeedNavigator. “With the increased veterinary oversight, there’s going to be a more targeted and careful use of antibiotics and we’re committed to stewardship.”   

However, there is more work to be done both in terms of gathering the data needed to address antibiotic use, and as veterinary feed directive (VFD) drug rules start, said Johnson.

Rules regarding VFDs govern the use and distribution of specific drugs used in animal agriculture and end the use of specific drugs for growth promotion. They were set by the FDA.   

Feed concerns

The Pork Checkoff has started an educational effort to help producers be prepared for the changes coming with the VFD, said Johnson.  The system will bring increased scrutiny from veterinarians and alter how producers can access antibiotics.

The organization is pushing for producers to develop relationships with their feed mills and veterinarians, he said. “We do have a concern that this challenge is going to be much greater for the small and medium producers,” he added.

Small producers may not have the same relationship with their vets as a larger entity because the drugs or medicated feed can now be purchased over the counter (OTC), said Colby Ferguson, Maryland Farm Bureau director of government relations. However, the OTC feed antimicrobials concerned will have VFD marketing status by 1 January 2017 when the new policy starts.

Data gathering

The current data available regarding annual agricultural use of antibiotics isn’t complete, said Johnson. The Pork Board has been working to develop a new system that would offer more parsed information.

“We’re not in a static situation, and we’re willing to be measured and share that with the world,” he said. “What we have today is gross sale numbers, and just because it was sold doesn’t mean it was administered. There is no granular data, and that is a data deficit.”

The group is developing models and metrics for antibiotic use in pork along with ways to collect and report data on antibiotic usage, he said. The system would be offered to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), which has been seeking funding to implement a data collection system.  

Other changes

Preventive treatment is supported in new Pork Board policy on stewardship, said Johnson. “We do believe that preventing disease is better than treating disease,” he added.

Producers, working with veterinarians who know their farms and their animals, ought to be able to treat expected disease, he said. Addressing the anticipated problem before it happens may result in less antibiotics use overall.

“Prevention is an important component of the remaining uses on the farm,” he said. “It’s part of the judicious use. People try to represent it as indiscriminate use, and that’s not it at all.”

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