Pork Production Needs to Curtail Antibiotic Useage

The amount of antibiotics used to keep pigs from getting sick now rivals the amount consumed by humans – without evidence the pigs are getting healthier, according to a report released this week.

The Natural Resources Defense Council report is an in-depth look at antibiotics in the pork industry and the consequences for human and animal health. The study found that roughly 27 percent of medically important antibiotics are sold for pork production, compared with 27.6 percent for treating humans.

NRDC senior health officer David Wallinga said the widespread practice of feeding antibiotics to pigs that aren’t sick in hopes of preventing disease isn’t working.

Wallinga said diseases such as E-coli infections, pneumonia and meningitis are more prevalent in pigs today than they were in 2000. He said the group timed its report to coincide with the World Pork Expo today in Des Moines, asking U.S. pork producers to end routine antibiotic overuse.

Denmark and the Netherlands, which together produce about as many pigs as Iowa, have cut their antibiotic use in hog production by 27 percent and 57 percent, respectively, Wallinga said. They’ve replaced the drugs with more frequent cleaning, improved ventilation and less cramped quarters. Wallinga said he believes the United States should do the same – and not only for the animals. 

It’s estimated that more than 2 million Americans suffer antibiotic-resistant infections each year, and at least 23,000 die as a result. The “Better Bacon” report is online at nrdc.org.