Myth Buster: Antibiotic Use in the Swine Industry

Posted: September 23, 2016 | Written By: Lisa Janak, Form-A-Feed Summer Swine Intern

swine antibiotics

GMO free, hormone free, antibiotic free. These three phases are changing the food industry through continued consumer interest in how food is produced, and these labels are highly visible to consumers on many food packages, especially ‘antibiotic free.’

Unfortunately, it’s all become a marketing ploy.

As agriculture enthusiasts, we can sit back and blame the everyday consumers for not understanding the antibiotic-free concept, or we can take action to educate those who are unfamiliar.

In today’s industry, hog farmers are continually battling misnomers about antibiotic use on their farms. Pork producers responsibly rely on the use of antibiotics to efficiently and safely produce a wholesome product for their consumers, and there are protocols to follow in order to properly distribute antibiotics to production livestock.

Before distribution, a hog producer needs to make note of what antibiotic is being used, the dosage, which animal is receiving the antibiotic, the date that the antibiotic was given, and the withdrawal period. A finished hog is not allowed to leave the farm until the antibiotic is completely out of its system. However, to ensure no antibiotic residues are in meat for human consumption, the USDA tests the carcass while at the packing plant. The packing plant takes a sample of the kidney and tests it for any antibiotic residue. If residue is found, the carcass is properly disposed of, and the producer receives a 30-day shipping suspension, with the suspension time increasing as more incidents occur.

Antibiotics are crucial in livestock production to prevent and treat diseases. Just as humans are prone to bacterial infections, so are pigs. Pigs are most vulnerable to diseases when they are weaned, therefore, some producers will use an antibiotic to prevent diseases before they are established. Research has proven that pigs that receive the preventative antibiotic are healthier, because they do not undergo further treatment of illnesses as they mature. This does not mean that antibiotics are growth promoters; however, if the diseases are being prevented, there is an added effect of the pig growing faster.

Consumers today are concerned that hog producers are not properly using antibiotics to treat their livestock, which is causing the pathogenic bacteria to become resistant to the antibiotics distributed. To ensure that the antibiotics remain effective for the pigs’ health and well-being, producers need to continue to utilize them as directed, with the approval of a veterinarian. To ensure these protocols are properly being followed, a new rule is being implemented January 1, 2017.

Veterinary Feed Directives (VFDs) are specific orders issued by a veterinarian allowing a producer to treat his or her pigs with antibiotics through the feed. The rule states producers are not allowed to obtain or use animal feed containing antibiotics without approval and documentation from their personal veterinarian. This documentation provides a limited usage period for the antibiotic, so the producer is unable to over feed it to the livestock, therefore, preventing non-judicious use.

Producers and agriculture enthusiasts are working hard to ensure that the products sold to consumers are safe and wholesome. So next time you are looking for the antibiotic free label on your food packaging, please remember that all meat is antibiotic free.