As a pork producer, you likely are aware of the new antibiotic regulations from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that will take effect Jan. 1, 2017. However, what’s likely less clear is the discussion about antibiotic resistance, which is at the center of most conversations about this important topic.

Definitions Provide Context

“Antibiotic residue” and “antibiotic resistance” are often confused, according to Dr. Jennifer Koeman, director of producer and public health for the Pork Checkoff. However, she says the two are not interchangeable, and it’s important to understand the difference.

“Producers are very aware of antibiotic residues and understand what they are,” Koeman said. “This was a driving force behind the original Pork Quality Assurance® Plus (PQA Plus®) program nearly 30 years ago. It’s only when the discussion turns to antibiotic resistance that many people, including many consumers, can get quite confused.”

  • Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria develop the capacity to inactivate or exclude antibiotics, or develop a mechanism to block the inhibitory or killing effects of antibiotics. The bacteria survive, continue to multiply and spread, causing more harm.
  • Antibiotic residue refers to molecules that remain in meat from animals that have been treated with antibiotics. During the drug approval process, the FDA establishes tolerance levels or maximum residue limits (MRLs) in edible tissues to ensure consumer safety. A violative residue occurs when a food animal is marketed with drug residues exceeding the designated MRL, which is illegal. USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service tests for violative drug residues at harvest to ensure that meat is safe to enter the food supply.

According to pork safety expert Steve Larsen, who serves as assistant vice president of the Pork Checkoff’s science and technology department, the U.S. pork industry has an extremely low incidence of violative residues in market hogs. However, sows and lightweight roaster pigs can sometimes present residue challenges because they fall outside of the typical marketing cycle and may have different treatment requirements than market hogs.

“These pigs require careful planning and extra veterinary guidance to ensure that all withdrawal times are followed to avoid potential violative residues,” Larsen said.

Antibiotic resistance is another story. “It’s multifaceted, is not easy to understand, and solutions are complex,” said Lonnie King, DVM, dean of the Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. The former director of the Centers for Disease Control’s new National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-Borne and Enteric Diseases spoke at the recent Pork Industry Forum in Indianapolis.

“It’s no surprise that antibiotic resistance has increased, but it is surprising how fast it’s increasing,” King said. “It is a national and global crisis, and it’s the most significant health problem that humans face.”

As a global concern for both animal and human health, antibiotic resistance and the use of antibiotics require broad collaboration. This is at the core of the One Health Initiative’s worldwide mission. (See Pork Industry Guide to Responsible Antibiotic Use One Health involves medical doctors and patients, veterinarians and farmers, along with government, researchers and industry stakeholders working together to find ways to combat antibiotic resistance and attain optimal health for people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants and the environment.

“The One Health concept resonates with me, and I think most producers understand the relationship – people, pigs and the planet are all connected in many ways,” said Terry O’Neel, National Pork Board treasurer and Friend, Nebraska, pork producer. “The common goals are to minimize the potential emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and to maintain antibiotics’ effectiveness for animal and human health, creating a win-win for all.”

King said, “This is different than residues. Pork producers have addressed residues with PQA Plus, which is a wonderful stepping stone to address antibiotic resistance. Pork producers have long been progressive leaders in animal agriculture, and I think they will continue that role as we tackle antibiotic resistance.”

Antibiotic Resistance: A Complex Issue

Antibiotic resistance is a completely different topic from residues and certainly is more complex, Koeman said. Animal health and public health experts agree that antibiotic resistance has occurred for millennia, independent of human involvement and modern-day antibiotics.

“However, antibiotic use, whether in human health, animal health or agriculture, can apply selection pressures for antibiotic-resistant bacteria to develop,” Koeman said.

“Antibiotic-resistant bacteria may not respond to treatment in humans or animals if and when they cause illness.”
Koeman added, “That’s why responsible antibiotic use involves everyone, from doctors to veterinarians to food producers to consumers in general. People need to maintain their health, follow doctors’ prescriptions and practice food-safety practices when handling and preparing all types of food.”

Systems Are in Place to Monitor

Over the past decade, the FDA and USDA, along with the veterinary community, animal health companies, food producers and other stakeholders, have put several layers of human-health protection in place to reduce resistance risks associated with antibiotic use in animals.

According to the Animal Health Institute, comprehensive measures to reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance include: a stringent FDA drug approval process, FDA post-approval risk assessment, government food-safety monitoring programs, responsible-use programs for veterinarians and farmers and pathogen-reduction programs.

The federal government also closely tracks antibiotic resistance in specific bacteria through the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System (NARMS), a cooperative program among the FDA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and USDA. The agencies do everything from collecting samples from harvest and processing facilities, to monitoring antibiotic resistance trends in farm animals, to monitoring and collecting samples in humans.

“The pork industry has been actively engaged in working with these agencies over the years to better understand all of the risk components of antibiotic resistance risk and how we can work together to find sensible, science-based solutions,” Koeman said.

Producers Contribute to Decades of Progress

The pork producer’s role in antibiotic resistance centers on responsible use, which is not a new concept. For more than 30 years, pork producers, veterinarians and animal health experts have worked to ensure that antibiotics are used responsibly on the farm. Self-improvement and management programs such as PQA Plus have led the way.

Another major step on the horizon for producers is to comply with FDA’s new antibiotic regulations that will eliminate the use of certain antibiotics for growth purposes. As of Jan. 1, 2017, FDA Guidances 209 and 213 will make it illegal for medically important (to human health) antibiotics to be used to promote growth in food animals. FDA Guidance 209 also requires veterinarian oversight when administering medically important antibiotics to food animals to treat, control or prevent a specific animal health issue.

“This is the first time that a national strategy has invited animal agriculture, as a respected member, to be part of the solution,” King said. “This is not about zero use of antibiotics; it’s about judicious use.”

King says when producers have a working understanding of antibiotic resistance, it helps put their own on-farm antibiotic strategy into a bigger context of both animal and human health.

“This is not about regulations; it’s about a mindset and working with your veterinarian to make sound decisions,” King said. “Most importantly, don’t wait for Jan. 1, 2017. Start preparing today.”

Many Paths to Success

Of course, antibiotics are just one tool in a producer’s animal health plan, which includes proper nutrition, clean water, air ventilation, temperature management, animal housing maintenance, animal care and even genetics, Koeman said. Vaccinations are key, used at the right time, on the right organisms, as well as heightened biosecurity measures to minimize the pathogens that animals encounter.

The PQA Plus program outlines steps for responsible antibiotic use, which can help minimize the potential risk of resistance developing within a herd. Here are points to consider:

  • Use antibiotics for treatment only when there’s an appropriate clinical diagnosis supported by clinical signs, necropsy, laboratory tests, herd history and other factors.
  • Identify factors that contribute to the cause of the disease, such as management, stressors and pig flow, which are all apart of an accurate diagnosis.
  • Consider herd health history along with diagnostics that include culture and sensitivity tests to help in antibiotic selection.
  • Consider group morbidity and mortality rates when deciding whether to initiate herd, group or individual therapy.
  • Limit antibiotic treatment to ill or at-risk animals, treating the fewest animals indicated.
“There are times when administering antibiotics to prevent disease will mean fewer antibiotics will be used than if treating the same animals following an outbreak,” Koeman said.
“Responsible treatment involves administering antibiotics only when necessary to the smallest number of animals feasible and for the appropriate amount of time necessary to prevent disease reoccurrence.”

Discuss product options with your veterinarian to select the most appropriate therapy for the specific situation, as well as any antibiotic-resistance implications for your farm and human health.

“Work with your veterinarian to develop treatment protocols to minimize the development of resistance or cross-resistance,” Koeman said. “Have a written action plan for antibiotic use and review it regularly with your veterinarian.”
Source: Pork Checkoff

Antibiotic Resistance and Residues: Know the Difference