Antibiotic resistance is a real and growing threat, with some scientists warning that if we don’t get a handle on the problem, modern medicine could be thrust back to the Dark Ages.
But one major group is leading the conversation in how to fight antimicrobial resistance.
Pork Checkoff, part of the US National Pork Board, has created a 3-point antibiotic stewardship plan centered on research, pig farmer education, and outreach to pork industry partners and consumers. The plan is funded directly by America’s 62,000 pig farmers.
The stewardship plan is as follows:
- The National Pork Board will collaborate with allied partners, including swine veterinarians, feed organizations, breed associations and show-pig groups, animal health companies and associated commodity groups to develop educational materials for more than 60,000 pork producers and the academic and swine veterinarian community about the new FDA regulations and antibiotic stewardship.
- The National Pork Board will revise and give added emphasis to antibiotic stewardship in the industry’s Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program. (PQA Plus certification includes best practices on swine health and welfare, public health and worker health and environmental sustainability.) This action will ensure that America’s pork producers understand the importance of the veterinarian-client-patient relationship and are prepared to implement the new changes to antibiotic use.
- Throughout 2016, the National Pork Board will use paid and earned media opportunities to help educate farmers about FDA’s new rules and the steps required for compliance.
- Collaboration and investment with like-minded organizations will help increase the reach and frequency of educational antibiotic messages.
- The National Pork Board will make antibiotic use and resistance a top research priority in its 2016 budget. Since 2000, the Pork Checkoff has invested $5.3 million in research on the epidemiology of antibiotic resistance, as well as efforts to define alternatives to antibiotic use. The board will invest close to a million dollars of new money in additional research in 2016.
- The Pork Board will identify specific risk assessments to better understand the relationship between antibiotic use in pork production and bacterial resistance. This research will augment past studies on interventions and alternatives, with the goal of reducing the need for antibiotics.
- In addition to the Pork Board’s existing producer committee of experts, a blue-ribbon task force of nationally recognized experts will be created to focus specifically on antibiotic use and resistance. The goal of the task force will be to objectively review and provide recommendations on Pork Checkoff policies and programs.
- The Pork Board will continue to work closely with federal agencies and other commodity group partners to research and identify models and metrics that will provide value to the pork industry for continual improvement of antibiotic use..
3. COMMUNICATION OUTREACH
- Communication regarding antibiotics to all segments of the pork chain will continue to be a main emphasis for the National Pork Board, with special emphasis on pig farmers and the upcoming new FDA rules.- Pork Checkoff publications include a quarterly magazine, monthly newsletters, research e-newsletters, web-based articles, fact sheets, the pork.org website (Antibiotics Resource Center), radio broadcasts, online videos, social media, etc.)
- The National Pork Board will continue to proactively work with all national and international media that are interested in U.S. pork production to serve as a resource about how U.S. pig farmers use antibiotics responsibly.
- The National Pork Board will continue to share the industry’s progress with retailers and foodservice companies that are interested in antibiotic use in pork production and provide credible responses to their inquiries.
- Ongoing outreach will continue to all state pork associations to help share antibiotic news and information with farmers and state-level allied industries.
- Collaboration with the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, the National Pork Producers Council, the American Feed Industry Association, land-grant universities and others will coordinate and amplify the National Pork Board’s communications efforts.”
The board is also praising action steps defined by the Obama administration through the Presidential Advisory Council on Combating Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria (PACCARB).
John Johnson, the National Pork Board’s chief operating officer, said:
“Antibiotics are essential tools for veterinarians and farmers in raising healthy livestock and producing safe food. We are pleased to see the administration acknowledge the very real changes occurring on farms across America in accordance with new federal guidance.” 
Recently, the PACCARB published a draft report on antimicrobial resistance, calling it “one of the most serious problems facing our national and global health.” In the 40-page report, the group outlined a series of action steps needed to combat the threat.
The new guidelines, published March 31, includes the need for better intelligence gathering, as well as the need to place the use of crucial antibiotics under the supervisory umbrella of veterinarians. The guidelines state that such medications should only be used when absolutely necessary to guard animal health.
“Pig farmers have embraced the new guidelines and are actively implementing them across the country. Strengthening veterinarian relationships, requiring a prescription or veterinary feed directive for the use of medically important antibiotics in water and feed, and prohibiting the use of medically important antibiotics for anything other than treatment, control, and disease prevention are major steps forward.” 
A survey conducted by Pork Checkoff of more than 550 pork producers found that 82% of those surveyed said they were aware of the upcoming regulatory changes to US law regarding on-farm antibiotic use – set to go into effect January 1, 2017. About 71% said they had a defined record-keeping system in place for antibiotic use.
Out of the big pork producers, Pork Checkoff said 83% said it has a solid system for recording the administration of antibiotics. Big pork producers go through 80,000 or more hogs annually. 
The National Pork Board has spent more than $6 million in the last 16 years to research and gather data on antimicrobial resistance and ways to fight it. According to the body, the majority of the pork industry’s research is focused on the priority areas of antibiotics.
According to the board, areas currently being examined include alternative antibiotic technologies, the environmental fate of antibiotics, and the potential development of bacterial resistance.
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.