Antibiotic resistance takes center stage at D.C. forum

Forum fosters collaboration among key stakeholders involved in reducing antibiotic resistance.

The National Pork Board joined with Atlantic LIVE today to bring together experts to discuss the challenge of responsible antibiotic use in the 21st century. At the event, leading stakeholders – from farmers to physicians – shared what is being done to address concerns of antibiotic resistance.

“Antibiotics are a critically important tool for pig farmers in this country; however we are very concerned about the issue of antibiotic resistance. It is a very real challenge for both human and livestock medicine, and it’s something that we all must address,” said John Johnson, chief operating officer of the National Pork Board. “We are sincere and authentic in our effort to do our part to meet this challenge.”

However, Johnson said there are voices claiming that nothing is changing on the farm.

“There are also those who claim that agriculture is simply changing the names — the nomenclature that what used to be called ‘growth promotion’ is now going to be called ‘prevention.’ That is simply not the case,” he said. “There is real, substantial change happening on the farm today with antibiotic stewardship. Not only is growth promotion rapidly going away for medically important antibiotics, but new requirements for increased veterinarian oversight — requiring what’s called a Veterinary Feed Directive, or prescriptions for water-based antibiotics — are going to be required, and they have to be written for a specific group of animals for a specific period of time according to the label to address a specific health threat.”

Dr. Beth Bell, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention’s National Center for Emerging & Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, told the audience antibiotic resistance is one of the most serious problems of our time.

“Antibiotic resistance really threatens many, many of the advances that modern medicine has made over a number of the past several decades,” she said.

As for the link between agriculture and antibiotic resistance, she said it comes through foodborne infections that are antibiotic resistant.

Dr. William Flynn, deputy director for science policy at the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, said he is very encouraged by the shift in tones in terms of how the conversation is moving forward from not if action can be taken but how.

“We are all in this together; we all have to contribute to the solution,” he said. “Rather than continue the debate about how much each of us is contributing, we really need to focus on how we can work together.”

Specifically, Flynn said stakeholders have to be very deliberate about thinking about how the products are used and then try to use them as judiciously as possible.

“Certainly, there are challenges ahead of us, but we are very encouraged by the fact that we are seeing positive engagement by different segments of the industry,” he said.

One of those challenges, according to Flynn, is that the U.S. animal agriculture industry is not a monolithic industry.

“There’s a wide variety of farms and producers across this country, from very small backyard operations to multi-state integrated operations and everything in between. So, certainly, there is a lot to take into account.”

“Our goal is not to eliminate antibiotics in animal agriculture; our goal is to eliminate inappropriate use of antibiotics. We want to make sure that the uses that are out there are necessary, are appropriate, are aligned with our current thinking on judicious use,” Flynn said.

He also warned that against ascribing blame to particular sector, saying, “I think it’s important that we look at this holistically as being a problem that is being collectively contributed to, and we need to look at it from that perspective.”

According to Flynn, it has been a challenge to keep the issue in perspective, look at it objectively and try to foster collaboration across all sectors where antibiotics are being used.

For more in-depth coverage see the March 17 Feedstuffs Daily online newsletter. 

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