Antibiotic Use in Pig Farming

What Responsible Antibiotic Use Means on a Pig Farm

America's pig farmers work closely with veterinarians to ensure that their pigs stay healthy. However, at times pigs need medical attention, which may require the use of antibiotics to treat illness. Responsible antibiotic use means using only what's necessary for pig health. This sensible approach means doing what's best for food safety, animal well-being and the environment or in other words...People, Pigs and Planet. To see what responsible antibiotic use means on a pig farm download this infographic.

Antibiotic Use in Pigs

Though pig farmers rely on antibiotics to keep their herds healthy, they also use a variety of tools to keep their pigs happy and healthy, including veterinary care, good nutrition, proper and comfortable housing and individual attention and care.

Making the decision to use antibiotics

Decisions to use antibiotics are unique to each farm and require the involvement of both farmers and veterinarians. Antibiotics are used by veterinarians and farmers to quickly address disease and keep animals healthy and thriving. Accordingly, responsible use of animal health products is a key concern for all farm employees.

“The pork industry always has been proactive, and pork producers have a long history of using antibiotics properly. Still, there's always room for improvement. All producers need to strive to keep getting better — something we are very familiar with doing.”

Safe Pork Comes From Healthy Pigs

It is important to maintain these approved uses of antibiotics to give farmers and veterinarians the ability to address animal health issues. Using disease-prevention strategies, in addition to treating or controlling disease, is essential for animal health and well-being because it’s better to prevent, rather than treat, disease that can lead to unnecessary illness, suffering and mortality.

Farmers do not constantly treat farm animals with antibiotics. When they do use antibiotics, they must follow ethical and legal requirements to do so according to label and dosing instructions approved by the FDA. Furthermore, farmers can treat individual animals with antibiotics by injection, while groups of animals usually receive antibiotics through feed or drinking water. Farmers and their veterinarians use their experience and knowledge in combination with scientific information to decide when a healthstrategy with antibiotics is necessary.

Pig farmers have a natural incentive to take preventive health measures to avoid the time, labor and expense necessary for administering antibiotics to their herds. Farmers want to provide such health products only when pigs are most susceptible to illness or when they are sick. Therefore, decision making is based on the following guidelines, which are outlined in the industry’s leading training and certification program, Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®).

Pig farmers use a broad range of tools and technologies to keep their pigs healthy. Antibiotics are one of these tools.

FDA guidance further defines responsible use

In addition to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) rigorous approval process for antibiotics labeled for use in food animals, the agency also defined uses of veterinary products, which are updated over time. The FDA is working with farmers and veterinarians to eliminate the use of medically important (to human illness) antibiotics for growth promotion and to bring important therapeutic use of antibiotics – to treat, control or prevent specific disease – under veterinary oversight. Farmers support these efforts and are committed to continuous improvement to raise safe, wholesome pork in a socially responsible way. 

Principles of responsible antibiotic use, farmers' guidelines:

Principle I: Take appropriate steps to decrease the need for the application of antibiotics.
Principle II: Assess the advantages and disadvantages of all uses of antibiotics.
Principle III: Use antibiotics only when they provide measurable benefits.
Principle IV: Fully implement the management practices described for responsible use of animal health products into daily operations.
Principle V: Have a working veterinarian-client-patient relationship and follow the responsible antibiotic use guidelines.

Role of a veterinarian

Veterinary involvement is critical to farms of all sizes. Beyond prescribing medications, the veterinarian can work with the farmer to develop strategies to minimize disease risk through facility design, pig flows, vaccination protocols, herd-health monitoring, disease surveillance and appropriate diagnostics. Farmers work closely with their veterinarians to understand the potential impacts new regulations might have on the herd as well as help ensure compliance with new guidelines and policies.

Veterinarians often provide fresh perspectives and recognize improvements that can be made while also educating farmers on best practices. Regardless, farmers should actively involve veterinarians in all medical decisions to ensure ongoing evaluation of treatment programs, appropriate testing and timely interventions.

Read more about pig farmers and veterinarian care and collaboration.

Training and certification

At the national and state levels, pig farmers adopt the 10 Good Production Practices that are the foundation of the Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program. They serve as guidelines for safe and responsible use of animal health products and for continually and objectively evaluating and improving animal care. Farmers and farm personnel earn certification in PQA Plus based on their knowledge of the GPPs. A 2016 update of the PQA Plus program will further emphasize antibiotic stewardship and stress the importance of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship in deciding when to use antibiotics.

PQA Plus and Food Safety


The ability to make informed decisions regarding antibiotic use is aided with practical experience and the benefit of research in this area. In the last 20 years, farmers have invested significant resources into research to find ways to improve animal health with and without antibiotics. We support studies and research on the epidemiology of antimicrobial resistance, as well as research on identifying alternative products and practices that will help minimize the need to use antibiotics.

Collaboration among the industry’s leading farmer and veterinary organizations, government agencies and agricultural universities will continue to play a pivotal role in advancing farmers' antibiotic stewardship efforts. The Executive Office of the President highlighted the National Pork Board as one the nation’s leading agricultural organizations managing research efforts in antibiotics and resistance. In fact, the National Pork Board is working with the White House on obtaining additional funding for research to add to the more than $5.3 million in Checkoff-funded research that’s been conducted on antimicrobial resistance and alternatives since 2000. In addition, the National Pork Board will work to identify specific risk assessments to better understand the relationship between antimicrobial use in pork production and bacterial resistance.

Federal oversight and regulations

Regulatory oversight of antibiotics use in food-producing animals is driven by rules and enforcement policies established by the FDA, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) and state agencies.

The FDA is responsible not only for regulation of human pharmaceuticals but also for most animal health products, including medicated animal feeds. Before an antibiotic is approved for use, the FDA requires it meet 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 on emerging scientific evidence. For example:

  • By the end of 2016, the FDA will eliminate on-farm use of medically important (to human illness) antibiotics for growth promotion and bring therapeutic use to treat, control or prevent specific disease under veterinary oversight.
  • Farmers will need a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) to gain access to the affected feed-based antibiotics and a prescription for water-based antibiotics for use in their herds.
  • 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.

FSIS monitors and tests meat at federally inspected meat plants to ensure no unsafe antibiotic residues enter the food supply. There is a withdrawal time between when an animal is treated with antibiotics and when it goes to market for sale. Extensive testing by government officials ensures that meat sold to consumers is free of violative antibiotic residue and is safe to eat.

Do you think that hormones are fed to pigs? Currently, there are no hormone products approved for use in raising chickens and pigs in the United States.

Additional Resources
Pork Checkoff’s Antibiotic Resource Center
National Pork Board Antibiotic Policy
National Prok Producers Council
Video: Antibiotic Use on Farms Revealed
Video: Uncover Antibiotic Use in Pork Production
What Consumers Should Know About MRSA