It’s cold and flu season here in Iowa, and many of us will need to take antibiotics to fight off bronchitis or sinus and ear infections.

Farm animals also get sick sometimes. When that happens, farmers consult with their veterinarians to determine the best treatment. Farmers are also collaborating with researchers to develop more natural alternatives to antibiotics.

“Just as you would with your own kids, you do the very same thing for your livestock,” says Stacey Euken, a pig farmer and mom of two boys from Wiota. “So you make sure (the pigs) are getting the proper diet. And if they are sick, you need to give them medicine.”

Farmers are addressing their customers’ concerns about antibiotic use in farm animals.

A new report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) shows that sales and distribution of antimicrobials for food-producing animals declined 10 percent in 2016, the first decline since 2009.

In addition, sales and distribution of medically important antibiotics, or those that are important to human health, for food-producing animals declined 14 percent in 2016, according to the FDA report.

Dr. Heather Fowler, a veterinarian at the National Pork Board in Clive, says the new FDA report shows that pig farmers have made responsible antibiotic use a priority.

“We are starting to see in the data what we’ve always known, that pig farmers are committed to protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics, and they do that by using antibiotics responsibly,” Fowler says.

Farmers can use antibiotics for animal disease prevention, treatment and control, but only with a veterinarian’s approval and oversight, Fowler explains.

If a farm animal is given antibiotics, federal law requires that the animal must undergo a withdrawal period before it can be marketed for processing.

Livestock farmers work closely with their veterinarians to protect animal health and overall food safety, Fowler says.

The National Pork Board helps train farmers through its Pork Quality Assurance (PQA) Plus certification program, Fowler says. PQA Plus outlines best management practices for farmers to ensure herd health, animal well-being and pork safety.

“Farmers care about their livestock and are well educated and do everything they can to make sure that what they do on their farm and what they do to care for their animals has their welfare in mind,” Euken says.

Fowler says farmers base their herd-health decisions on the latest science and the guidance of their veterinarians.

Pig farmers have invested their own dollars in research on responsible antibiotic use, alternatives to antibiotics and production methods to reduce the need for antibiotics in their herds, Fowler said.

“America’s pig farmers are committed to protecting the effectiveness of antibiotics while simultaneously protecting the health and welfare of people, pigs and the planet,” Fowler says.

For more information about pig health and food safety, visit the National Pork Board’s website. Also, Best Food Facts features a video that takes a closer look at antibiotic use in farm animals.

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