Mark White, president of the Pig Veterinary Society

How do we reduce antimicrobial use without screwing up the pig?

Antimicrobial resistance is not going away, nor is the political rhetoric. It will take a worldwide approach to refine antibiotic use without damaging pig health.

Raising pigs without antibiotics is a growing pressure placed on pig farmers around the world. The use of antimicrobials in pigs is serious business. Everyone in the pork industry understands and realizes the importance of fine-tuning antibiotic use. It is necessary all antimicrobials work effectively in animals and humans.

Still, a complete ban on antimicrobial-use in pork production becomes an animal welfare issue. Pigs deserve the best care possible, whereas pig farmers need to retain the ability to use antimicrobials safely and wisely to protect the well-being of the pigs. 

Pig farmers around the world are asking the same thing — How do we reduce antimicrobial use without screwing up the pig?

Mark White, DVM and president of the Pig Veterinary Society, shares with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians the European perspective on antimicrobial use.

White explains there is now a general acceptance in Europe that the major cause of antimicrobial resistance in human medicine results from human usage. “Nevertheless, the concept of ‘One Health,’ in which humans, animals and the environment all interact, cannot be ignored,” he notes.

As the United Nations General Assembly made secure commitments to address AMR, it opened the door for lobby groups and marketing executives to drive policy in Europe over the last seven to 10 years. “As a veterinary surgeon this approach does not sit comfortably, but one must face reality whilst retaining the primary duty to ensure health and welfare,” says White.

European Union hog farmers are facing the same antimicrobial use issues as U.S. hog farmers. 

Struggle: Political discussions and the push for regulations regarding antimicrobials are unbalanced. White explains the process of policy formation in the EU.

As a result, it is no longer about the science.

Challenge: Responsibly using antimicrobials in animals means a commitment to reduce and refine antibiotic use without damaging pig health, pig welfare, productivity and sustainable production at the same time not destroying abundant food production and people’s livelihoods.

Challenge: How do you measure antimicrobial use in food animal production accurately? A question every country is having trouble answering.  

A big struggle with large challenges for the entire global pork sector to conquer. 

Moving forward
As White stresses, antimicrobial resistance is not going away, nor is the political rhetoric. So, a reasonable worldwide approach is necessary to move forward. For the global pork industry, the task at hand is figuring out how to improve pig health and not reduce antimicrobial use for reduction’s sake. The entire pork community must advocate and support voluntary approaches to antibiotic-use reduction. 

Still, the largest challenge at hand is the conversation with retailers and food companies. Retailers need to avoid making antibiotic-use a competitive issue.

Although it is good to know America’s pig farmers are not alone in the antimicrobial-use struggles, the battle is uphill. It will take tough conversations, unusual partnerships and sheer focus for all pig farmers to refine antibiotic use without hurting the pig.

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