‘Race to zero’ not the answer in antibiotics debate
Regulations around the use of antibiotics in feed should not encourage a race to “no antibiotics ever” production systems that could compromise pig welfare, according to a pork-industry veterinarian.
Liz Wagstrom, DVM, chief veterinarian for the National Pork Producers Council, said the introduction of the new veterinary feed directive rules in 2017 was an important step in ensuring responsible use of antibiotics in swine and other food animals.
But she warned that trying to emulate the poultry sector’s rapid shift to raising broilers without antibiotics could put pig welfare at risk.
Speaking to Pig Health Today, Wagstrom said that while the pork industry was supportive of efforts to use antibiotics responsibly, it’s also important for regulations not to go too far.
“Even though there’s no scientific data which supported the tightening [of antibiotic usage], we did feel it was good to have a regulated or more rigorous need for the veterinarian to be involved in the decisions,” she said.
“Our Pork Quality Assurance program has always said that veterinarians should be involved in all decisions, regardless of where the distribution chain was, so that was a good thing.”
However, she added, “We are very concerned if the FDA goes any further. We don’t want restrictions on preventing use of antibiotics, and we don’t want arbitrary restrictions on how long they can be used in certain situations.”
Wagstrom said that the FDA has begun to ask veterinarians to provide information on how antibiotics which don’t have treatment durations listed on them are being used — something she said might indicate plans to add arbitrary limits to some products in the future.
Before further proposals are made, she suggested the pork industry could look at ways to limit the need for antibiotics itself, whether through production changes, pig flows, vaccination or hygiene protocols.
There is also benefit in helping retailers and processors understand the complexities in pig production, ensuring they not encourage a “race to zero” in a bid to be able to promote pigs raised without antibiotics.
“Let’s look at what’s right for the pig, our production systems, what’s still going to protect public health, and what complies with regulations,” she said.
“Let’s look at this more holistically than the race to zero, and separate marketing from science.”
To help retailers and consumers understand why antibiotics are an important part of the production system, Wagstrom said vets and producers need to become industry advocates and be prepared to educate their neighbors and the media on this important health and welfare issue.