Consumers are concerned about antibiotic use in food animals. USDA has established a new program, the Collaboration on Animal Health, Food Safety and Epidemiology, to provide a more accurate analysis of the contribution agricultural use of antimicrobials may have on the development of resistance.

“This program (CAHFSE) will be the first of its kind for assessing the impact of production practices on animal and public-health issues, particularly antimicrobial resistance, from the farm through the packing plant over a long study period,” says Bob Kraeling, microbiologist for USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Animals will be tested on the farm and also at the packing plant. “Researchers may not be able to sample the exact same animal in both places, but the animals tested will be from the same group,” he notes.

The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is leading the on-farm efforts, with pork operations in Iowa, Minnesota, North Carolina and Texas, already enrolled in the program. The Food Safety and Inspection Service will lead the in-plant portion, while ARS is in charge of the laboratory testing and food-safety analysis.

The two main program objectives relate to animal health and food safety. In the animal health area, researchers will collect blood samples to assess the presence of bacteria that cause ileitis (Lawsonia intracellularis) in four age groups of weaned market hogs. The samples will be sent to the University of Minnesota.

These blood tests will provide an epidemiological description of ileitis, including monitoring disease and death rates on affected farms. Plus, it will help researchers determine when ileitis breaks occur and if there’s a difference between production systems, especially in their use of anitmicrobials.

On the food safety side, researchers will collect fecal samples to determine on-farm trends relating to the prevalence of Salmonella, Camplyobacter, Enterococcus spp., and generic Escherichia-coli.

Quarterly fecal sampling began in July 2003. USDA is enrolling 12 operations in each state for a total of 48 operations, including outdoor systems, multiple-site units and farrow-to-finish operations.

Veterinarians will take 40 fecal samples from finishing pigs that are ready to be shipped to the packer, as well as collect 60 blood samples. They’ll also gather information from producers to describe the on-site production practices and antimicrobial use to further determine any risk factors.

The results should help improve the quality and safety of U.S. pork and the health of the U.S. swine herd. Among the benefits to pork producers will be additional information provided to practitioners, more research on antibiotic resistance, and an objective assessment of food-safety risks associated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

“Producers participating in the program are concerned about the state of the industry and the public’s perception,” says Kraeling. “They want to solve any problem with
antimicrobial resistance, if there actually is one.”

Right now, researchers are in their second quarter of sampling. Kraeling expects to have the first round of results by early January. ARS is in the process of designing a Web site to post the summary results as they become available.

USDA may expand this program with other livestock species, including beef, dairy and poultry.

For more information about antimicrobial resistance research, go to www.arru.saa.ars.usda.gov