DURING the World Health Organization's (WHO) World Antibiotic Awareness Week, held Nov. 16-22, both the National Pork Board (NPB) and the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC) took the opportunity to highlight U.S. pork producers' commitment to the responsible and necessary use of animal health products to keep their animals healthy and to produce safe food.
WHO created World Antibiotic Awareness Week to increase awareness of global antibiotic resistance and to encourage best practices among the general public, health workers and policy-makers to avoid the further emergence and spread of antibiotic resistance.
NPB debuted a new infographic depicting how U.S. pig farmers work with veterinarians to use antibiotics responsibly.
"As pig farmers, we work closely with veterinarians to make sure we're using antibiotics only when necessary for the health and well-being of our animals," NPB president Derrick Sleezer, a pig farmer from Cherokee, Iowa, said. "We're also committed to protecting human health, and we understand the importance of using tools such as antibiotics responsibly to ensure food safety."
NPB also said it continues to update and expand programs, such as Pork Quality Assurance Plus, that certify that farmers know the latest information about how to practice responsible antibiotic use at the farm level. Pig farmers are also increasingly communicating with the public about this issue with the goal of demystifying antibiotic use.
"We realize that today's consumers want to know how their food is produced and that it's safe for their families," Sleezer said. "This is why we're reaching out and telling people how we keep animals healthy to produce safe food. This infographic is one way we will achieve that goal."
NPB has made a concerted effort in 2015 to address antibiotic-related issues. The board's three-point plan of action focuses on research, education and communication. The plan will help shape educational outreach to pig farmers, share information with the retail and foodservice industries and inform pork consumers.
Other antibiotic initiatives from NPB include a new independent blue-ribbon panel to discuss the issue and to help prioritize research and producer education programs. The panel also will identify opportunities for improvement in current antibiotic practices and offer guidance on how to improve antibiotic stewardship in the pork industry.
"The role antibiotics play in pig farming is often misunderstood," NPB chief executive officer Chris Hodges said. "That's why we work closely with various groups in the food chain and why we're reaching out to consumers with information about how antibiotics are used on the farm. It's all part of our responsibility to build consumer trust in pork production."
NPPC used the awareness week to showcase the pork industry's efforts regarding antibiotic use over the past three decades.
NPPC said the Pork Quality Assurance program was developed in 1989 to address concerns over antibiotic residues, and today, 99.9% of pork tested meets U.S. Food & Drug Administration residue standards.
In the early 1990s, the pork industry established standards for the judicious use of antibiotics for pork producers to follow. In 1996, it supported establishment of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System to track antibiotic resistance in foodborne bacteria from humans, retail meats and food animals. The industry continues to lobby Congress for federal funding for the program, NPPC said.
Work continued through the next decade, and in 2005, the industry established the "Take Care -- Use Antibiotics Responsibly" program to provide pork producers and their veterinarians with principles and guidelines to consider when making decisions on antibiotic use. FDA, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and veterinarians provided input for the program, which became part of the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program in 2007.
Over the past year, and in addition to other activities, the pork industry has collaborated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and FDA to develop meaningful antibiotic use data collection -- an effort that is ongoing, NPPC said. This year, the industry also participated in in the President's National Strategy for Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria.
Manure management competition
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is partnering with USDA, pork and dairy producers and environmental and scientific experts to launch the Nutrient Recycling Challenge, a competition to develop affordable technologies that recycle nutrients from livestock waste.
Every year, livestock producers manage more than 1 billion tons of manure, which contains valuable nutrients -- i.e., nitrogen and phosphorus -- that plants need to grow. Challenge participants will develop technologies that extract nutrients from livestock manure to generate products with environmental and economic benefits -- products farmers can use or sell.
"Scientists and engineers are already building technologies that can recover nutrients, but further development is needed to make them more effective and affordable," EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said. "The Nutrient Recycling Challenge will harness the power of competition to find solutions that are a win-win for farmers, the environment and the economy."
During the four-phase competition, innovators will turn their concepts into designs and eventually into working technologies that livestock farms will use in pilot projects.
Phase I, which began Nov. 16 and ends Jan. 15, 2016, calls for papers outlining ideas for these technologies. Phase I prizes will be announced in March and include up to $20,000 to be split among up to four semi-finalists, entry into subsequent phases of the challenge with larger awards and an invitation to a two-day partnering and investor summit in Washington, D.C. Final awards will be announced in January 2017, with farm demonstration pilot projects to follow.
Partners in the Nutrient Recycling Challenge include USDA, American Society of Agricultural & Biological Engineers, Cooper Farms, Iowa State University, Dairy Farmers of America, Smithfield Foods, NPPC, World Wildlife Fund, Tyson Foods and many more.