Antibiotics, rightfully so, remain at the center stage of discussion for human and animal health. As the calendar rolled past Jan. 1, the spotlight on the new FDA antibiotic rules on the farm still filters through mainstream headlines, calling for the end of antibiotic use in livestock. For those spearheading the anti-meat campaigns, antibiotic use in food animals is an opportunity to grab the consumers’ attention and chisel away the ability to use this animal health tool.
Antibiotic resistance is a real problem and warrants the majority of the chatter it generates. Human and animal health communities are joining forces to combat antibiotic resistance and promote proper antimicrobial use.
Still, similar to most discussions about food the real science and facts are left out of the discussion. Animal agriculture is often listed as the culprit for developing antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans. As Liz Wagstrom, National Pork Producers Council chief veterinarian, told the South Dakota Pork Congress the relationship between antibiotic use in livestock and antibiotic-resistant bacteria in humans is less than 10% of the cases. A fact rarely quoted in media stories or consumer discussions.
Granted the nation was distracted at the time by the change of power in the White House, the news that an Oregon State University researcher team developed a new weapon in the battle against antibiotic-resistant germs was virtually silent. Nevertheless, the scientists, in part of an international collaboration, demonstrate the molecule’s ability to neutralize the bugs’ ability to destroy the antibiotic by inhibiting expression of an enzyme that makes bacteria resistant to a broad range of penicillins. This is another example of innovation addressing a problem. Yet, the discussion on this discovery will most likely remain among the science community.
As human and animal health work together on this large issue focusing on science and innovation, the consumer will be a focus on the story that pleas to their emotional intellect. There is more to animal health than antibiotics, and consumers need to hear that straight from the farmer. So, take a few lessons from the anti-meat agenda and seize this opportunity to tell your animal health story.
Wear your passion on your sleeve: You compassionately take care of the pigs every day. While it is easier to talk about the economics and science, the consumer just really wants to know you care for the pigs and produce safe pork. So, show them your passion.
Antibiotic ice-breaker: Animal health and animal welfare are more than giving antibiotics to pigs. Although antibiotics start the conversation, they do not have to monopolize the discussion. Do not put the defensive wall up when the topic of antibiotics comes up. Use this moment to tell your farm’s animal health story. Explain the role of the veterinarian, how you identify a sick animal and the decision process involved before administrating an antibiotic.
Watch your words: The term “antibiotic-free” is highly misinterpreted by consumers and food companies. While livestock producers understand all meat is antibiotic-free, the misleading labels attempting to describe a production practice is creating confusion. Avoid using “antibiotic-free” when speaking about a hog farm that selects to raise animals with no antibiotics ever.
Keep in mind; the average consumer supports responsible antibiotic use. A consumer survey from Oklahoma State University confirms that consumers want farmers to use antibiotics to treat sick pigs and prevent disease. Therefore, a better explanation on how antibiotics are used on your farm only builds a stronger foundation of trust between farmer and consumer.