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‘One Health’ approach needed to balance antibiotic usage, animal welfare

When it comes to responsible antibiotic management, there are wide-ranging views and interpretations on usage, impact, future direction and even terminology.

For example, “judicious use” and “stewardship” are often used interchangeably. However, they mean similar but different things, according to Heather Fowler, DVM, director of producer and public health at the National Pork Board (NPB).

In a sense, both terms address how a producer uses antibiotics. Judicious or responsible use aligns more with how a producer works with his or her veterinarian to identify the need and the effective antibiotic, including the dosage and timeline, to be applied in a very targeted way.

Stewardship refers to a program or support structure that guides antibiotic use, with training, tracking and recordkeeping built into the package. “With stewardship, there’s the understanding that you’re not alone,” Fowler told Pig Health Today. “Stewardship involves updating the process — what works, what doesn’t, how we can continue to use antibiotics responsibly.”

On the farm, the first step is to comply with FDA’s antibiotic guidance 209, including having a veterinary-client-patient relationship and working through veterinary feed directives as needed, Fowler said. The next step is to understand and embrace antibiotic stewardship within the farm’s long-term plan.

One Health

Activists tend to point to pork, cattle and poultry producers as major drivers of antibiotic resistance while the scientific community sees the issue as an integrated One Health approach.

“One Health is based on the understanding that the health of people, animals and the environment are so linked that we need to study them in unison, and we need to make sure that all uses are justified,” Folwer explained. “We all have a shared role in antibiotic resistance; we have a shared role in stewardship and in making sure we protect the efficacy of antibiotics.”

Along that vein, efforts to focus on reduced use can be misleading when it comes to overall progress. She shared this example: Suppose a producer achieved the gold standard — every single antibiotic use is justified and kept to a minimum. If the requirement is then to reduce usage rather than use antibiotics more responsibly, as some countries have done, it could negatively impact animal welfare.

“We want the metric to be stewardship and judicious use,” Folwer added, “which helps make sure that every antibiotic use is justified.”

Engage consumers

While it’s estimated that at least 40% of US poultry is now raised without antibiotics, that would be difficult to match in the pork industry given a market hog’s longer life cycle — typically 185 days versus 42 to 56 days for broilers.  Without access to antibiotics, “what do we do with sick pigs? We don’t want to impair their welfare,” Folwer said.

Maintaining production diversity is critical, and that’s something the public needs to understand.

Folwer sees a different approach for the pork sector. “To engage the consumer in conversation of ‘this is how pigs are raised, this is how we use antibiotics and this is what it means for the pig’s health’,” she said. Raising pigs without antibiotics “may work well for some producers, but we know it’s not necessarily the right answer for every pig and every system or even for all pigs within a system.”

To bring their story to consumers, NPB and Folwer advocate farm tours — bringing consumers out to connect with the farmer to see the farms and the pigs to gain a better understanding. Of course, biosecurity issues may prevent that from taking place on every farm. But virtual tours can be an equally effective option. Also sharing their story online through Facebook and other social media venues, as well as being active within their communities, are other options.

“At the end of the day, the National Pork Board and our producers are all about producing a safe and nutritious product produced in a way that protects public health as well as animal health and welfare,” she said. “No matter how we raise pigs, we need to make sure we uphold those objectives.”

Posted on February 27, 2019

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