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Antibiotic stewardship: What can the pork industry learn from human medicine?

With so much attention being placed on antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance, animal agriculture can sometimes feel as if it’s the only target. However, human medicine also is getting an overhaul, as the end goal for everyone is to ensure that antibiotics remain effective. Leading the effort to bring all parties together is the global One Health initiative. Simply put, the concept recognizes that human health is connected to the health of animals and the environment.

“When we talk about antibiotics, the place to start is that nobody’s contribution is zero,” said Amanda Beaudoin, DVM, director of One Health Antibiotic Stewardship for the Minnesota Department of Health. “We all play a role, and antibiotic use in food-animal production is a small piece of a big pie.”

She acknowledges that pork producers and swine veterinarians have committed to using antibiotics responsibly and that new veterinary feed directive rules are a big step in the right direction. Still, the concepts of stewardship and judicious use are different:

  • Stewardship is the idea of improving antibiotic use for a specific situation. “It’s more of a process,” Beaudoin said. “First, determine what it is that we’re doing. Are we following through? Learning to track usage and see where we can make improvements?”
  • Judicious use is tied more directly to the farm and the art of medicine. “What do we know about the bug and the drug?” she said. “It’s about our clinical experience and what’s needed right now.”

Beaudoin is an advocate of sharing lessons and ideas between human and animal health. “We need to measure what’s happening, determine where the most egregious and highest volume of (antibiotic) mis-prescribing is and focus on that — the low-hanging fruit,” she told Pig Health Today.

For example, more than 30% of antibiotic prescriptions for out-patient treatments in general-practice clinics are inappropriate or unnecessary, according to Beaudoin.

What is the low-hanging fruit related to pork production? Beaudoin said there’s a need to identify what’s missing in the diagnostic, communication/reporting and treatment processes.

“As an industry, there needs to be more transparency of discussion,” she added. “How are we using antibiotics, what are our big (health) issues that require antibiotics, and how can we make improvements?”

Increasingly important in the discussion are such things as biosecurity protocols, vaccination plans and quality-assurance programs — all tied to disease/infection prevention.

“No matter what field you’re talking about, the No. 1 step to combating antibiotic resistance is infection prevention,” Beaudoin concluded.


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