America’s pork farmers have always been committed to advancing animal well-being and producing safe, nutritious food for consumers. To deliver on this commitment, they work diligently to provide for the comprehensive health needs of their animals. Animal agriculture experts and scientists understand that animal health is vital to food and public safety. Accordingly, responsible use of animal health products, including antibiotics, is a key concern for every person involved in producing pork for consumers.
Regulations and processes are in place to ensure antibiotics for food animals are safe and administered in a judicious manner.
- The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible not only for regulation of human pharmaceuticals but also for most animal health products and medicated animal feeds. Before any antibiotic is approved for use, the FDA requires it meet rigorous standards to protect the safety of animals, humans and the environment. This approval process is the first of multiple steps to ensure the safety of food that comes from any animals treated with antibiotics.
- Pork farmers work closely with veterinarians regarding decisions about antibiotic use. They have a natural incentive to prevent the need and expense of using antibiotics in their herds, so farmers want to provide such health products only when pigs are most susceptible to illness or when they are sick.
At the national and state levels, organizations representing the country’s pork producers work proactively and continuously to improve farming methods by funding and promoting best practices guidelines, new technology and research. Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) is the pork industry’s flagship on-farm education and training program. PQA Plus is a comprehensive, science-based program that covers a wide array of farming practices, including the responsible use of antibiotics. To date, more than 55,000 individuals are certified through PQA Plus and more than 18,000 farms have undergone evaluation of animal care practices.
Today, pork producers, in collaboration with veterinarians and other agricultural experts, are more knowledgeable and better equipped than ever before to effectively manage herd health, including proper, responsible antibiotic use.
Q. Why are antibiotics used in pigs?
A: Appropriate antibiotic use can keep animals healthy, just as the use of these types of medications can advance the health of people. The consensus among pork producers and animal agriculture experts is that healthy pigs are directly related to a safer food supply.
Q. How are antibiotics used in pork production?
A: Antibiotics are administered to animals to protect their health and well-being, which helps ensure food safety and public health. Only antibiotics approved by the FDA are used in pigs, and farmers work closely with veterinarians to decide which antibiotics to use to treat, prevent and control disease and improve feed efficiency, which allows pigs to grow healthier and better on less feed.
Q. What is the industry’s position on the use of antibiotics in pork production?
A: The National Pork Board believes responsible use of antibiotics is essential not only to animal health and well-being but also to public health and the safety of the food chain. Decisions affecting their availability should be based on sound science and what is best for animal and human health.
Q. Aren’t antibiotics in feed used only by large producers?
A: A 2000 survey conducted by the National Animal Health Monitoring System (NAHMS) determined the use of antibiotics was not related to the size of operation. In fact, a similar percentage of small producers and large producers report using antibiotics in feed. More NAHMS information can be found here.
Q. Are there other factors besides antibiotic use that impact animal health?
A: Yes. The use of animal health products, including antibiotics, is only one part of a comprehensive herd health program. Biosecurity, diagnostics, vaccinations, facility maintenance and animal care are all part of managing herd health.
Q. What is “antibiotic resistance”?
A: “Antibiotic resistance” refers to bacteria that are able to survive despite exposure to antibiotics.
Q. How does the industry promote responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals?
A: Pork producers are committed to protecting public health and preserving animal health and well-being by using antibiotics responsibly. The pork industry supports the responsible use of antibiotics to maintain herd health, while it seeks to continually improve its practices based on scientifically sound information and ongoing research. Programs such as PQA Plus teach best practices in the area of antibiotic use in pork production. PQA Plus has been in place for many years, and to date, more than 55,000 pork producers and allied employees have received individual certification in the program.
Q: What truth is there to the idea that antibiotic resistance in farm animals is leading to drug resistance in humans?
A: There is no conclusive scientific evidence that antibiotics used to treat food animals have a significant impact on the effectiveness of antibiotics in people. In fact, peer-reviewed studies suggest more than 95 percent of antibiotic resistance concerns in human medicine are unrelated to animal uses of antibiotics. Denmark has had a public policy restricting antibiotic uses in its pigs for more than 10 years, resulting in serious consequences to the health and welfare of pigs with no objective improvement in public health. The U.S. pork industry has worked jointly with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for nearly a decade on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System. Research shows resistance in animal products and foodborne diseases is steady or declining over the past several years.
Q. Is it safe to use antibiotics in food animals?
A: Yes. The FDA does not approve the use of antibiotics until they undergo a rigorous review to safeguard animals, humans and the environment. The FDA approval process is the first of multiple steps to ensure food products from animals treated with antibiotics are safe. Farmers work closely with veterinarians to decide which antibiotics to use, and they are administered when the animals are most at risk for illness. Additionally, the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) inspects every animal that enters and passes through processing plants. FSIS also takes samples from meat to verify there are no unsafe antibiotic or other residues.
Q. What about organic meats? Are they safer?
A: No. There is no scientific evidence that nutritional and safety profiles of organic meats are different from conventionally raised meat products. Only growing, handling and processing methods differ.
Additional information about proper antibiotic use in pork production can be found at the following resources:
To learn more about responsible animal agriculture, visit porkcares.org.