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SD pork producers comply with new antibiotic rules

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — As of Jan. 1, livestock producers are facing new rules for antibiotic use under the Food and Drug Administration's Veterinary Feed Directive. The livestock industry has been gearing up for the changes in the past couple of years, but pork producers have been the most proactive.

Bill Even, National Pork Board CEO, says last year they embarked on one of the most aggressive producer education campaigns in the organization's history to make sure the industry was ready. "We feel that the pork industry is probably as well informed as it can be around the new guidelines," he says.

The NPB will also be holding ongoing education in 2017 on the VFD to make sure producers are in compliance. "To make sure as they transition their facilities they know what the nutritional requirements are and the animal welfare and handling requirement that they're going to need to be on top of," Even says.

Pork producers think the industry was well prepared for the change, making the transition a smooth one. "We have been talking to the producers for well over a year about it and trying to make sure everybody had their proper paperwork and everything done," says Craig Andersen, South Dakota Pork Producers Council second vice president and Centerville pork producer.

Producers did attend seminars on the rules at the South Dakota Pork Congress, and the VFD discussion was a part of the Pork Quality Assurance training held by SDSU Extension Swine Specialist Bob Thaler.

He says the VFD limits the use of livestock antibiotics that are medically important to humans and will likely have the biggest impact on farrow to finish operations and those using antibiotics as growth promotants, administered in feed or water. "The majority of antibiotics producers use in the feed they need to get a veterinary feed directive or a prescription from that veterinarian."

Supervision, records

Producers also learned they can still treat sick livestock with antibiotics, but only with veterinary supervision.

"I would have to call my vet and he would you know depending on his trust level of me as a producer either come out and inspect the pigs or he would just write me a script and I could go pick up the proper medications," says Steve Rommereim, National Pork Board treasurer and Alcester pork producer if he has sick pigs on his farm.

There will also be additional record keeping on the part of producers and veterinarians as FDA may routinely monitor or audit operations.

Despite the claims of some activist groups, there is no science that proves a link between human antibiotic resistance and the use of antibiotics in livestock production. However, the Veterinary Feed Directive rules are an effort to protect antibiotic viability in humans and all species of livestock.

"The consumer needs to be very aware that this is all being done for the protection of our entire ecosystem." Rommereim says. He is hopeful the VFD, and the livestock industry's willingness to be proactive, has a positive impact on consumer confidence in the food system. "This is more of a safety lever now that you can be assured that we're not misusing antibiotics in livestock production because everything we do is going to have to be scrutinized by a vet," he says.

It's good to have this oversight because antibiotic use and resistance is not just a concern with humans or pigs, it impacts all species, including companion animals. "Now we're starting to run into problems with it and we need to get a handle on it in every aspect, whether its human, companion animals, livestock and even fish, because there isn't hardly any species that doesn't get antibiotics used on," he says.

Thaler says pork producers have and will continue to use antibiotics responsibly and so the change in antibiotic rules are just a precaution. "Everybody's concerned about antibiotics," he says. "It's just a tool that producers use and basically they use it to ensure animal health, animal welfare and they don't use it for reasons besides that."

Rommereim agrees with Thaler and says not treating sick livestock is inhumane, so antibiotics play a key role in the health and safety of the herd and the food supply.

"I think we were very very good about not ever overusing antibiotics," Rommereim says. He adds that pork producers use antibiotics responsibly because they are too expensive to not use judiciously.