Monday, August 23, 2010

Hog farmers warn of risks from reducing antibiotics

The Obama administration wants farmers to use fewer antibiotics in their livestock operations, but that approach isn't without its hurdles. Randy, Mark and Tom Hilleman raise hogs for Iowa cooperative Eden Farms, which markets pork to high-end restaurants under the condition hogs have not been given antibiotics for growth promotion. The approach brings its own challenges, Philip Brasher of the Des Moines Register reports, namely "Some of the black Berkshire hogs grunting and rooting around the Hillemans' barns are likely to get sick and die before they're ready for market. That's because it's sometimes impractical to treat them, the brothers say."

Following concerns that overuse of antibiotics in livestock is contributing to drug-resistant diseases in humans, "the Food and Drug Administration this summer proposed to phase out the use of antibiotics as growth promotion but still allow drugs to be added to feed or water for purposes of preventing specific diseases," Brasher writes. Newly weaned pigs arrive at the Hillemans' farm when they are three weeks old and only receive"antibiotics while in the nursery and again for their first two weeks or so in the open-ended hoop barns where they spend most of their seven-month-long lives." Then the pigs only receive antibiotics if they are sick.

"If a sick pig doesn't get better on its own, it's likely to get a shot of an antibiotic, unless the animal is under the 100-day drug ban," Brasher writes. "If the hogs are given antibiotics then, they can only be sold as conventional hogs, and that means keeping a treated animal in a separate pen or marking it in some way to make sure it wasn't mixed with the hogs that will be marketed under the Eden Farms label." The Hillemans say  it's impractical for them to treat the pigs and handle them separately. For every 100 hogs they raise, two or three die of pneumonia or some other illness.
Some members of the Eden Farms co-operative have gone completely antibiotic free, but the Hillemans say not giving infant hogs antibiotics would be too risky. "Experts say that it's especially challenging to keep young pigs healthy without the use of antibiotics, since the animals are weaned at 3 weeks old or younger, much earlier than they would be in nature," Brasher writes. "That's so the sows can be impregnated and produce another litter as soon as possible." (Read more)

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