Pork producers are concerned about animal health, including the use of antibiotics. But now, it’s time to take that concern a step further. Antibiotic use in food-production animals is on Congress’ and the public’s radar screen.

That’s why it’s important for you to look at the industry’s Take Care: Use Antibiotics Responsibly program. This National Pork Board effort encourages producers to work with their veterinarians and follow specific principles when it comes to antibiotics. (See sidebar for Take Care’s guidelines.)

“More than 40 percent of the pigs marketed in the United States are raised by producers that have already pledged to join and promote the program,” says Paul Sundberg, NPB’s vice president of science and technology. The goal is to double that amount by year’s end. Truth is, if that can be accomplished it could carry some weight in Congress and elsewhere that the antibiotic debate might surface.

The program isn’t about decreasing the use of antibiotics; it’s about using them responsibly. For some producers that may mean using less.

Representatives from the animal-health and human-health sectors provided detailed and objective recommendations for pork producers to use within their operations. The groups included the American Association of Swine Veterinarians, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, animal-health companies, American Veterinary Medical Association and individual veterinarians.

Key to the program is to establish a detailed working relationship with your veterinarian. This means questioning him or her about animal-health practices specifically suggested for your herd. You need to ask: Why are we doing this? How long are we treating the pigs? Are there any management changes that we should make?

Regularly review your herd’s antibiotic use with your veterinarian. That may mean a monthly, quarterly or annual review, or perhaps after closing out each pig group. The point is to decide what your needs are and establish a schedule.

The program does not promote any specific antibiotics. Which antibiotics you use, how and in which production phase are decisions for you and your veterinarian.

“You need to use your veterinarian in the decision-making process for all antibiotics, including over-the-counter products,” says Tom Wetzell, DVM, South Central Veterinary Associates, Wells, Minn. 

For example, he points out that you can buy Procaine Penicillin G over-the-counter without talking to your veterinarian or having a prescription. But, that is exactly the type of decision the Take Care program wants you to discuss with your veterinarian.

“There is a potential economic benefit for producers who use the program appropriately,” says Wetzell. “There is a good chance of decreasing the cost of side of the equation without decreasing pig performance.”

But the program will only be as good as the implementation. “If the producer or veterinarian simply reads the information and doesn’t implement it, then the program doesn’t have much merit,” he notes.

Another reason for all producers to implement the Take Care program relates to the future accessibility of antibiotics.

Jill Appell, a pork producer from Altona, Ill., has seen firsthand the results of Denmark’s antibiotic ban, where producers now face continuous herd-health issues, especially ileitis in newly weaned pigs.

Efforts by several activists, environmental and public-health organizations to ban livestock antibiotics in the United States have surfaced again. There are concerns that producers’ access to antibiotics will be seriously reduced and that newly proposed legislation — The Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act of 2005 — could slow or eliminate development of new and innovative drugs.

Appell believes the Take Care program is a proactive step. Sometimes producers or production crews forget why an antibiotic was used and it becomes one more step in the background, she notes.

The Take Care program can be beneficial to the entire pork chain, says Appell. “Producers should look at this program because the pork industry needs to make sure consumers continue to have faith in our product…and that includes not over-using antibiotics.” 

Keys To Take Care
Putting the Take Care program’s principles and guidelines into practice can help you maintain your herd’s health, produce quality pork and reflect responsibility. These steps are outlined in a booklet available from the National Pork Board. There also are educational CD’s and fact sheets available to assist in implementing the program.

Take a look at the program’s principles and guidelines:

1. Take appropriate steps to decrease the need to use antibiotics. Use preventative strategies, such as implementing biosecurity programs, appropriate animal husbandry, hygiene, health monitoring and vaccination programs.

2. Assess the advantages and disadvantages of all antibiotic use.

3. Use antibiotics only when they provide measurable benefits.

4. Complete the Pork Quality Assurance program and implement the management practices for responsible animal-health product use into your daily routine.

5. Follow the Take Care Responsible Use Guidelines.

Guideline A: Use professional veterinary input as the basis for all medication decisions. This includes establishing a veterinary-client-patient relationship, which involves such points as:

1. You and your veterinarian should make all medical decisions about your animals.

2. You implement those decisions as agreed upon.

3. The veterinarian must visit your facilities enough to have sufficient knowledge of your animals, their management and care.

4. The veterinarian must be available for follow-up treatment and consultation.

Guideline B: Antibiotics should be used for treatment only when there is an appropriate clinical diagnosis.

Guideline C: Limit antibiotic treatment to ill or at-risk animals. This encourages treatment of the fewest animals possible.

Guideline D: Antibiotics that are important in treating antibiotic-resistant infections in human or veterinary medicine should be used in animals only after careful review and reasonable justification.

Guideline E: Mixing together injectable or water medications, including antibiotics, is illegal.

Guideline F: Minimize environmental exposure by proper handling and disposal of all animal-health products, including antibiotics.

Source: National Pork Board