On Thursday morning (March 3, 2016) CBS news aired a story on fast food restaurants’ move to provide meats from production systems that implement antibiotic-free practices. Before the echo of the sound bites had faded, the communications team of the National Pork Board went to work to help correct some of the inaccuracies in the CBS presentation.
Kevin Waetke, NPB vice president of Strategic Communications, submitted a response on behalf of the NPB, stating “The National Pork Board supports a consumer’s desire for greater food transparency, but it is critical that information shared with them is accurate and not sensational in its approach. The 60,000 pig farmers we represent have been preparing the past 18 months for the very real and substantive changes that are occurring on pig farms across the country in regard to responsible antibiotic use. … Preserving the effectiveness of medically important antibiotics is critical in our commitment to ensure a safe food supply and to build consumer trust. Consumers must understand three key concepts:
Safe Food Comes from Healthy Animals — Decisions to use antibiotics are unique to each farm, regardless of farm size, and require the oversight of both farmers and veterinarians working together. Antibiotics are used when needed to address disease challenges, to keep animals healthy and to produce safe food. It is not possible to raise all pigs without antibiotics. Some pigs will get sick and need treatment. To not treat them would be inhumane, resulting in reduced animal welfare and increased concerns about food safety.
Antibiotics and Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria in Meat — The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service tests meat for antibiotic residues to ensure consumers with a safe product in the meat case and in restaurants. Additionally, antibiotic-resistant bacteria is tracked by the federal government. Through a collaborative effort among the CDC, FDA and USDA, the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System tracks specific resistant bacteria in humans, animals and retail meat. To date, there are not any patterns from the NARMS research that show resistant bacteria are routinely transferred from animals to humans.
Cost of Antibiotic-Free Meat — It is inaccurate for the Consumers Union to state that the ‘price of meals probably will not go up much, if at all,’ as they do not have a current grasp on the state of the industry. Although some suppliers have begun to test the market demand for pork from pigs raised without antibiotics, others have chosen to not pursue this option. Based on current market dynamics, consumers do have to pay more for pork from pigs raised without antibiotics.”
As the CBS story proves, the education mission of the NPB goes beyond that of only pork producers. The NPB and the producers themselves need to take the lead on engaging, educating and informing their neighbors, as well as their urban friends on the responsible pork production practices.
Responsible production practices involve the responsible use of antibiotics, and the issue was heavily included in formal and informal discussions during Pork Forum. These discussions need to continue long after Forum, as well as long after the new rules take effect with the flip of the calendar. These discussions are also being taken to those fast-food companies who have pledged to provide meat produced in antibiotic-free production systems. That pledge in itself may go against the very nature of responsible production practices.
Though no industry likes to be told how to do their business, especially by misinformed or under-informed organizations or consumers, it is the reality of the world. However, it never does hurt for the industry or individual producers to reevaluate or reassess what has become business-as-usual.
A solid producer-veterinarian relationship should have already been developed, but the Jan. 1 regulations will require a Veterinary-Client-Patient Relationship. Producers need to use this veterinary relationship to their benefit. If you haven’t already, have discussions with your herd veterinarian of how your operation fits into these new rules.