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Survey says: RWA production adversely affects pig health and welfare

Swine producers and veterinarians responding to a national survey said pressure to maintain the raised without antibiotics (RWA) label sometimes compromises animal health and welfare, Jennifer Wishnie, DVM, assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University, told Pig Health Today.

This finding was a key observation of the study and was “concerning,” Wishnie said.

This is one of the first surveys aimed at obtaining the perspectives of veterinarians and producers about the impact of RWA production, she noted.

The survey, conducted for swine, poultry, turkey, beef and dairy, was intended to determine how raising animals without the use of antibiotics affects different production parameters. There were 148 completed responses from veterinarians and producers for the swine portion of the survey and just over 500 responses for the total survey across the food-animal industries. Both RWA and conventional respondents were included, Wishnie explained.

RWA programs cost more

Raising pigs without antibiotics negatively affected performance parameters such as feed efficiency and mortality compared to conventional production, respondents said. The cost of production was higher in RWA compared to conventional systems, according to survey results.

The reasons producers opted to initiate RWA production were primarily market-driven: better prices and access to a niche market.

Producers who stuck with conventional production did so because they were either concerned about the impact of RWA production on the health and welfare of the animals, or they had a responsible antibiotic-use system they liked, Wishnie said. She noted that pork producers are well-versed in the responsible use of antibiotics, thanks to the longstanding Pork Quality Assurance program.

Reality versus expectation

Wishnie explained that across the food-animal industries, both RWA and conventional respondents felt food safety as well as animal health and welfare are compromised by RWA production.

However, respondents from all the food-animal industries believed their customers thought RWA production improved food safety and animal health and welfare.

This raises the question: “What do the customers actually believe?” That question wasn’t addressed in this survey but should be the next step in a process to better understand the situation, Wishnie commented.

Although the food-animal industry has provided significant educational outreach to customers about “why and how antibiotics are used for animal health and welfare,” the message may not be getting through, she said.

For the pork industry, the survey’s take-away message is understanding that pressure from demands to maintain a label may adversely affect animal health and welfare in RWA production. This presents a real challenge for producers who want to maintain animal health and welfare, while at the same time protect human health, Wishnie said.

Posted on September 3, 2019

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