Calls to cut antibiotics could hurt pig health, vet warns
Calls to ban antibiotics for disease protection in pig and other livestock systems could damage animal welfare and compromise the United States’ food system, industry leaders say.
The National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) said World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations that farmers should to stop using antibiotics routinely to prevent disease go against producers’ obligations to care for their animals.
Liz Wagstrom, NPPC chief veterinarian, said US pig producers share the WHO’s concerns about the rise in antibiotic-resistant bacteria and understand the need to use antibiotics responsibly.
But she said that producers are already devoting time and resources to reduce antibiotics use, and further restrictions would be ill-advised.
“Denying pigs, cows and chickens necessary antibiotics would be unethical and immoral, leading to animal suffering and possibly death,” she said.
“Using antibiotics to prevent disease, in most cases, supplants the need to use more potent medically important antibiotics to treat disease.”
The WHO’s new global recommendations, published in November 2017, aim to preserve the effectiveness of antibiotics that are important for human medicine by reducing their unnecessary use in animals.
In some countries, about 80% of medically important antibiotics are used in the animal sector, largely for growth promotion in healthy animals.
The organization also wants countries to ban disease prevention use of antibiotics without diagnosis.
But Wagstrom said US pig producers already work with veterinarians to comply with rules prohibiting the use of antibiotics important to human medicine.
Simply reducing on-farm use of antibiotics will have little effect on public health and would jeopardize animal health, she added.
“The US 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 and studying alternatives to antibiotics.
“[The WHO’s] call for stopping the use of antibiotics that are critically important in human medicine for treating infected animals is antithetical to pork farmers’ and veterinarians’ moral obligation to care for their pigs.”