The American Association of Swine Veterinarians’ (AASV) Board of Directors addressed the issue of antibiotic-free production during a recent meeting in Perry, Iowa. Veterinarians serving on the association’s Pig Welfare committee and Pharmaceutical Issues committee raised concerns regarding pig health and well-being in antibiotic-free production systems. The committees considered issues associated with concerns that animals requiring antibiotics may not receive timely treatment under certain antibiotic-free production strategies.

The timely treatment of sick animals is a standard of proper animal husbandry promoted by veterinarians and supported by America’s pig farmers. Some antibiotic-free systems, however, do not provide marketing options for the animals that do need antibiotic treatment. This disincentive may lead to delayed treatment or the failure to treat altogether.

AASV members consider this to be unacceptable from the standpoint of proper animal health and well-being.

“The AASV is committed to sustainable pork production,” said Dr. George Charbonneau, AASV president. “Maintaining the health and welfare of the pigs that are in our care is a top priority. We recognize there is a market for pork that is raised without antibiotics. It may be necessary, however, in any production system, to provide timely and judicious antibiotic treatment in order to avoid animal suffering.

“Consequently, every antibiotic-free program should have the ability to sell antibiotic-treated pigs through an alternate market, following a safe withdrawal time," he said.

In response to these concerns, the AASV board adopted the following position statement regarding raising pigs without antibiotics: 

Any pork production system that is marketing pigs raised without the use of antibiotics should closely involve veterinarians in the management of herd health. If a pig is sick, or is at risk of getting sick, it is our responsibility as swine veterinarians to prevent or treat illness in a judicious manner to maintain animal health and welfare. Farmers should have an alternative marketing plan in place for pigs that need to be treated with an antibiotic.1,2 It is important that the decision to treat or euthanize is made in a timely manner so as to minimize the pig's pain or distress.

1If an animal has been treated with antibiotics and proper withdrawal times are followed, the meat is safe for consumption.
2Marketing programs should not prevent a farmer from treating or preventing illness.