Food Forum: Analyzing Antibiotics

Main Image

This past fall, the National Pork Board announced a new, blue-ribbon panel on antibiotics;an outcome of the Pork Checkoff’s stewardship plan first defined in June 2015. The seven, third-party experts will provide invaluable experience and knowledge in antibiotic practices or consumer marketing to the pork industry.

The panel will review antibiotic use on U.S. pig farms and help guide Pork Checkoff efforts to prioritize antibiotic research and producer education. The panel also will help identify ways to improve current antibiotic practices and offer guidance in how to enhance antibiotic stewardship.

“The critical role antibiotics play in pig farming is one of the most misunderstood facets of food production today,” says John Johnson, COO of the National Pork Board. “We thank these leaders for their assistance and appreciate their range of expertise. From rigorous scientific study to foodservice and retail management, these experts will help us continue to build consumer trust and confidence in meat production.”

To help facilitate that, the National Pork Board has hosted meetings with its food chain partners, sharing the innovation of current production practices and efforts to responsibly use antibiotics. Since the U.S. pork industry introduced its new antibiotic stewardship plan, meetings have been held with animal health companies, packers, processors, retailers and foodservice companies. 

“We are advancing in antibiotic stewardship, but antibiotics remain a vital part of our ability to address animal welfare and food safety issues,” says Michael Apley, a veterinarian and professor in clinical sciences at Kansas State University. “We can raise some animals without antibiotics, but not all.”

Steven Solomon, M.D., a public health consultant and former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office of Antimicrobial Resistance, says, “The science is complicated, but we do know how to improve the use of antibiotics in both human and animal medicine. We need to better translate complex information about antibiotic use for the benefit of the food consumer.” 


Sharing the Story

The National Pork Board has defined a three-point plan of action focused on five distinct research priorities. 


Research—Investing $750,000 in new research projects that span five distinct priorities intended to provide data for animal and public health outcomes (pig health/welfare, human health/safety, environmental impact and pork quality).


Education—Updating the Pork Quality Assurance Plus (PQA Plus) farmer certification program in 2016 and investing up to $400,000 in education and awareness programs to ensure pig farmers understand and adopt new Food and Drug Administration rules for the use of medically important antibiotics (to treat human illness) in feed and water.


Communications—Gathering industry leaders for meetings on responsible antibiotic use and sharing the U.S. pork industry’s story of continuous improvement with producers and consumer media through outreach, byline articles and advertisements.

The intent is to shape educational outreach to pig farmers and broadly share information with the retail and foodservice industries and pork consumers. 

“We’re focused on sharing our story of innovation and excellence in pork production,” says National Pork Board president Derrick Sleezer. “The bottom line is simple: safe food comes from healthy animals. Farmers are experts in animal care and sustainable farming. And that expertise is needed to maintain our track record of responsible antibiotic use. Our goal is to protect the health and well-being of people, pigs and the planet.”     


Kevin Waetke is vice president of strategic communications for the National Pork Board. He can be reached at KWaetke@pork.org.  


More from our partners