America’s pig farmers have always been dedicated to advancing animal well-being and producing safe, nutritious food for consumers. To deliver on this commitment, they work in collaboration with animal agriculture experts, veterinarians and scientists to provide for the comprehensive health needs of their animals. There is no question 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.
To promote animal health and food safety, policies pertaining to antibiotic use should be based on facts — not on misinformation.
Human and animal health experts agree it is important to use food production practices that minimize the development of antibiotic resistance in human health. The topic of antibiotic resistance is complex, and certain facts must be established in order to have a productive dialogue about issues concerning antibiotic use. For example:
- The majority of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) clinical infections in humans are due to human (vs. livestock) strains of MRSA, yet many people unfairly blame agriculture for the prevalence of MRSA in humans. To date, no clinical case of MRSA in a human has been conclusively linked to livestock in the U.S.
- Not all antibiotics are the same. Some are used in both people and animals. Some are used primarily in animals and are not medically important to people — and are not contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that is potentially harmful to public health. Of the antibiotics used in farm animals today, about one-third are called ionophores. Ionophores are not medically important, nor are they used in humans.
- Antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be foodborne or non-foodborne. Non-foodborne strains began emerging decades ago in hospital settings and are not linked to animals in our food system. These cases represent the vast majority that are hard to treat.
- Foodborne illness and antibiotic-resistant bacteria can cause human health problems; however, proper cooking and handling of food can eliminate the risk from bacteria (such as Salmonella). In the rare instances when people become ill from antibiotic-resistant foodborne bacteria, they can almost always be treated successfully.
Regulations and practices 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 an antibiotic is approved for use, the FDA requires it meet rigorous standards to protect the safety of animals, people and the environment. This approval process is the first of multiple steps to ensure the safety of food that comes from animals treated with antibiotics.
- FDA policies regarding antibiotic use in farm animals are periodically updated based upon emerging scientific evidence. For example:
- Within three to four years, antibiotics important to human medicine will not be permitted to be administered to food animals for the purposes of growth promotion (FDA Guidance 209 and 213; note: exact timing depends on the final issuance of the FDA guidelines, expected in 2013).
- The FDA has issued a limit on the total sales of antibiotics critical to human medicine, such as fluoroquinolone and cephalosporin, to the food animal industry.
- Pig farmers work closely with veterinarians regarding decisions about antibiotic use. They have a natural incentive to prevent the time, labor and expense associated with administering antibiotics to their herds, so farmers want to provide such health products only when pigs are most susceptible to illness or when they are sick.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) monitors and tests meat to ensure no unsafe antibiotic residues enter the food supply.
Pig farmers embrace ongoing training,
employee certification and continuous improvement.
At the national and state levels, organizations representing the country’s pig farmers work proactively and continuously to improve farming methods by funding and promoting best practices, new technology and research. Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) is the pork industry’s flagship 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 an on-site evaluation of animal care practices.
Q. Why are antibiotics used in pigs?
A: Appropriate antibiotic use keeps animals healthy, just as the use of these types of medications can advance the health of people. The consensus among 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 antibiotic usage should be based on sound science and what is best for animal and human health.
Q. Aren’t antibiotics in feed used only by farmers of larger operations?
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 farms and large farms were found using antibiotics in feed. More NAHMS information can be found here.
Q. How can farmers promote animal health beyond the use of antibiotics?
A: 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. Increasingly sophisticated systems are in place to minimize threats to animal health from disease and infectious agents.
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: Pig farmers are committed to protecting public health and preserving animal health and
well-being by using antibiotics responsibly. Farmers support the responsible use of antibiotics to maintain herd health and seek to continually improve 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 pig farm owners, employees and managers 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 USDA for nearly a decade on the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS). 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 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 pig farming can be found at the following resources:
To learn more about responsible animal agriculture, visit porkcares.org.