While Dr. Oz fails to invite America’s pig farmers to the conversation about pork, it should not be a reason to silo. Prepare yourself now to answer consumers’ questions about what they learned from the show.

January 9, 2018

5 Min Read
Here is how to answer consumers’ question about Dr. Oz show
The Dr. Oz Show

Oh, Dr. Oz you did not just pick on America’s favorite — bacon. What is the adage, if you are the one on top then you receive the loudest criticism? 

Yesterday, as President Donald J. Trump addressed the farmers and ranchers at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention, Dr. Oz took on antibiotic use in the meat supply by investigating America’s bacon problem. Did you miss it? You were either highly involved in activities in the barn or attending AFBF or tuning in to the president’s speech online. Honestly, Dr. Oz is not on my “must watch” list, but when a friend sends a text, alerting you that he is at it again, you just have to check it out.

However, I am certain many moms and dads did tune in to season 9 episode 72 of the Dr. Oz Show which raises the question “Is the Pork Industry lagging in taking out antibiotics?”

For your reference, the episode description: The pork industry is taking a long time to comply with the World Health Organization’s demand that the use of antibiotics in animals to be used as meat cease immediately.

The show is reaction to the WHO call for farmers to stop disease prevention uses of antibiotics in food-animal production.

Dr. Oz starts the show with a strong statement, “While the chicken industry has reduced their use of antibiotics, the other white meat — pork — has lagged behind. What’s slowing them down?”

He turns to investigative food journalist, Maryn McKenna, author of Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats, for the answer. After all, as stated by Dr. Oz, McKenna is one of the most vocal voices warning consumers about antibiotics in food. 

So, the show begins with a discussion between Dr. Oz and McKenna, comparing chicken to pork and later moves into a segment discussing labels on bacon with Mark Schatzker, author of Steak and The Dorito Effect.

The question raised by Dr. Oz is fair to ask, however he failed to invite an important expert to answer. No, not me — although I would meet the food journalist qualification, and I would gladly accept — but he failed to let America’s pig farmers answer. 

Still, the episode is out there for everyone to view. While no reaction is often a good reaction to those creating drama, it is also dangerous to put your head in the sand when someone other than a hog producer is telling the story of pork. The Dr. Oz episode demonstrates that conversations about food happen every minute of the day. While Dr. Oz failed at bringing all sides to the discussion, it should not be a reason to silo. As members of the pork industry, we should keep sharing and keep inviting the consumer to the food conversation.

So, if consumers ask questions or repeat the information presented on Dr. Oz, prepare yourself. Here are some myths and truths from the episode.

Myth: Only chicken farmers care about antibiotic-use in animals: When comparing chicken versus pork, McKenna says the entire chicken industry is collectively working toward raising chickens with no antibiotics ever. She firmly states “They (chicken industry) really wanted to do this.”  

Fact: America’s pig farmers care about antibiotic-use also. Farmers and ranchers want antibiotics to work effectively on the farm and in the hospital.

“Denying pigs, cows and chickens necessary antibiotics would be unethical and immoral, leading to animal suffering and possibly death, and could compromise the nation’s food supply,” explains NPPC Chief Veterinarian Liz Wagstrom, DVM. “The U.S. pork industry’s goal is to reduce the need for antibiotics, and it has devoted time and resources to that end, including adopting good antibiotic stewardship practices such as strictly adhering to FDA-set antibiotic withdraw periods. But stopping the use of antibiotics for treating animals that are or, without treatment, will become sick is antithetical to pork farmers’ and veterinarians’ moral obligation to care for their pigs.”

For information about antibiotics use in pork production, visit PorkCares.org/antibiotics

Truth: Pigs are more complicated. In the discussion, McKenna explains pigs are more complicated than chickens. They live longer, and they are more vulnerable to disease. 

Fact: It is hard to argue with her statement. It takes more days on feed to raise a pig from birth to harvest. All animals are vulnerable to disease outbreaks. Livestock producers exercise a comprehensive management plan to keep the animal healthy — biosecurity measures, vaccination regimens, provide a balanced diet, control healthy environment and administer medication under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian.

Truth: Pigs’ movement makes them more susceptible to disease. Oz says, “The more they (pigs) move around, and longer they live the more likely it is to introduce disease into these animals.”

Fact: Depending on the operation, pigs are moved from facility to facility, farm to farm and even state to state. If you want the pigs to remain healthy would you not do anything in your power to prevent them from getting sick? Antibiotics are just one tool America’s pig farmers utilize to keep animals healthy.

Truth: Raised without hormones is a useless food label for pork. Schatzker knows it and openly acknowledges that this food label is no use to the consumer. He states, “Raised without hormones is an empty buzzword.”

Fact: All pork is raised without hormones. Straight from the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, “Hormones are not allowed in raising hogs or poultry. Therefore, the claim “no hormones added” cannot be used on the labels of pork or poultry unless it is followed by a statement that says “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones.”

Myth: Pigs raised without antibiotics is the highest level of animal husbandry. Schatzker makes a strong statement about the “Raised without Antibiotics” label. He says, “When you see the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ label, you know that pork comes from pigs raised to the highest level of animal husbandry.”

Fact: Raised with antibiotics or no antibiotics ever does not define the level of animal care. America’s pig farmers do what is right for the pig every day. For example, if the animal is sick, the pig’s caretakers have a choice. Give it medication such as an antibiotic — under the supervision of a veterinarian — or do nothing and let the animal suffer and possibly died. Which choice demonstrates the highest level of animal care?

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