'Antibiotics are a critical tool' for both humans, animals

Editor's note: The following article was written by

PORK Network

Editor JoAnn Alumbaugh and published in the

June issue of

PORK Network

Antibiotic resistance affects more than 2 million people in the U.S. every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Last year, 23,000 people died as a result of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Since their discovery, antibiotics have proved to be extremely successful in curing disease. Illnesses that were once fatal are now easily treatable, but health leaders are alarmed over the potential overuse of antibiotics in people and food animals, which has led to the evolution of drug-resistant bacteria.

"Antibiotics are a critical tool to treat and prevent disease in both humans and animals," says John Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Pork Board. "The U.S. pork industry is committed to ensuring responsible use of these medicines in animals to protect their efficacy for both humans and animals. Through a science-based approach, we must all work together to better understand and address the potential impact of antibiotic resistance."

Loud Voices Blame Animal Agriculture
There are entities, however, that feel animal agriculture isn't doing enough to address antibiotic resistance. Media and individuals make assertions without acknowledging the FDA guidance established two years ago that ended the practice of giving antibiotics to healthy animals.

"There are those who claim the pork industry is simply changing the nomenclature, that what used to be called 'growth promotion' is now going to be called 'prevention,'" Johnson says. "That's simply not the case. There is real, substantial change happening on farms today with antibiotic stewardship."

Not only is growth promotion rapidly going away for medically important antibiotics, but new requirements for increased veterinary oversight, such as veterinary feed directives and prescriptions for water-based products, are being implemented.

"This means antibiotics must be used for a specific group of animals for a specific period of time to address a specific health threat," Johnson says.

A public forum brought together key leaders to tackle the challenge of antibiotics in the 21st century. Leading stakeholders—from farmers to physicians—shared what is being done to address concerns related to antibiotic resistance.

The discussion featured comments and discussion from experts, including the National Pork Board, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Veterinary Medical Association and representatives from across the food chain.

"Without the timely use of antibiotics, sickness can spread rapidly, both endangering the health of animals and the safety of our food," says South Dakota pig farmer Brad Greenway, who attended the event. "Through the pork industry's stewardship and new FDA rules, real change is underway on the farm. America's pig farmers embrace these new rules and want to share our commitment to responsibly treating and preventing disease in livestock."