Consumer activist groups and a handful of legislators have long called for limiting – if not eliminating – the use of antibiotics in animals, under the premise that antibiotic use in production animals can lead to antibiotic resistance in humans. While research supporting that claim is nebulous at best, the industry recognizes that more can be done to manage the use of antibiotics at the farm level.

What is Antimicrobial Resistance?
According to the World Health Organization, antimicrobial resistance is resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by it.

Resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial drugs, such as antibacterial drugs (e.g. antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing the risk of spread to others.

The evolution of resistant strains is a natural phenomenon that occurs when microorganisms replicate themselves erroneously or when resistant traits are exchanged between them. The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains. Poor infection control practices, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourage the further spread of antimicrobial resistance.

Here’s Why It’s Important
While the primary source of antibiotic resistance is due to the improper use of human medicine, the issue is important on a global level. Here are some key facts from the World Health Organization:

  • Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.
  • It is an increasingly serious threat to global public health that requires action across all government sectors and society.
  • Antimicrobial resistance is present in all parts of the world. New resistance mechanisms emerge and spread globally.
  • In 2013, there were about 480,000 new cases of multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB). Extensively drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) has been identified in 100 countries. MDR-TB requires treatment courses that are much longer and less effective than those for non-resistant TB.
  • In parts of the Greater Mekong subregion, resistance to the best available treatment for falciparum malaria, artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), has been detected. Spread or emergence of multidrug resistance, including resistance to ACTs, in other regions could jeopardize important recent gains in control of the disease.
  • ·         There are high proportions of antibiotic resistance in bacteria that cause common infections (e.g. urinary tract infections, pneumonia, bloodstream infections) in all regions of the world. A high percentage of hospital-acquired infections are caused by highly resistant bacteria such as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) or multidrug-resistant Gram-negative bacteria.
  • Patients with infections caused by drug-resistant bacteria are generally at increased risk of worse clinical outcomes and death, and consume more health-care resources than patients infected with the same bacteria that are not resistant.

Producer groups applauded the White House action plan for combatting antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and stressed that producers are committed to continuous improvement. The Pork Checkoff, which is funded directly by America’s 62,000 pig farmers, could expand its existing research to address this growing consumer issue if the additional commitment of $1.2 billion is realized.

“Collaboration across our industry – from the farms to the dinner table – is critical,” said Chris Hodges, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board.