The National Pork Producers Coalition is pushing back against claims that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s first ever estimate on antibiotics sold for animal agriculture is evidence of overuse.
“Pork producers use antibiotics responsibly, under the direction of a veterinarian, to protect public health and the health of their animals and to produce safe food,” said Howard Hill, DVM, who serves on the board of directors for the National Pork Producers Council.  “The FDA report does not show that livestock producers overuse antibiotics, and it doesn’t show that they are being irresponsible.  It simply shows that 28.7 million pounds of antibiotics were sold in the United States.”

NPPC points out that ionophores accounted for 29 percent of the FDA estimate and because those compounds are not used in human medicine, they don’t have anything to do with the effectiveness of antibiotics in people.
The FDA report, a requirement mandated by the 2008 Animal Drug User Fee Act, did not break down data on how many of the drugs are being used to treat sick animals, to prevent and control diseases or to promote faster growth with less feed.
“Despite the fact that the FDA report lacks the data,” Hill said, “several groups continue to peddle junk science on the percentage of antibiotics used for ‘non-therapeutic’ reasons, which include prevention and control of diseases, and to make comparisons of antibiotics used in food animals with those used in humans.”

The Animal Health Institute, which vigorously opposes further regulation of antibiotics for food animals, estimates that only 13 percent of antibiotics sold were labeled for feed efficiency or growth promotion, “meaning they weren’t labeled for treating, preventing or controlling disease,” Dave Warner, NPPC’s communication director, told Food Safety News in an email response.
“There’s no separate data on antibiotic uses for treat (therapeutic), prevention and control. Part of the reason is that the same drug may be used–in different  doses–for all three purposes,” added Warner.

The FDA’s new guidelines on animal antibiotics are expected to be issued soon, and U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter has called for restricting the use of antibiotics to speed food animal growth.  After the FDA released its summary report, Slaughter issued her own statement.

“This report illustrates the overuse of antibiotics in food animal production and makes a strong case for some common-sense limits on antibiotic use,” Slaughter said. “We are putting millions of pounds of antibiotics into the food supply unnecessarily every year. This cannot continue and it’s my hope that these new data from the FDA will encourage even more members of Congress to join me next year when I reintroduce this legislation.  Moreover, the FDA must move fast to issue strong regulations on antibiotic usage in agriculture.”

  • Robert P. Gordon DVM MPH

    Dr. Hill is presumably correct in his statement that pork producers use antibiotics responsibly when under the direction of a veterinarian. The exclusionary phrase is “under the direction of a veterinarian.” Most unfortunately, veterinary direction is applied infrequently. Producers can and do purchase millions of pounds of antibiotics without veterinary direction, prescription, or oversight. That may allow the producer group’s PR response through Dr. Hill to be true but avoids and circumvents the reality regarding the addition of antibiotics to the food chain without veterinary involvement. Judicious use of antibiotics, as defined in AVMA policy, calls for a valid veterinary-client-patient relationship. Under this definition in policy, the millions of pounds of antibiotics given as feed additives available from pharmaceutical companies through feed operations, is not judicious use.
    The pork producers should be applauded for their efforts to have antibiotic feed additives under the direction of a veterinarian. Unfortunately, that accounts for a relatively small amount of total usage today.

  • Travis H. DVM Student

    With all do respect Dr. Gordon, all large scale hog operations are similar to large scale beef operations in that a consulting veterinarian has contact with the operation at least once a month. Is this not a valid veterinary-client relationship? Does the veterinarian need to be present for all Abx applications? Are these farmer not intelligent enough to use antibiotics and read labels? Do you know the total number of pounds used without an animal health claim? Seems that your MPH has taken you beyond the realm of common sense. Furthermore, Rep. Louise Slaughter should not be viewed as any authority in the animal health industry and there have been no proven ties to food animal use of Abx to resistant strains of drugs. Maybe the small animal practitioner should be under scrutiny for prescribing Abx which are actually used in human medicine to the beloved Fluffy.