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This Week's Pig Industry News

25 June 2012, at 11:38pm

ANALYSIS - The pressure to reduce antimicrobial use in farm livestock ratcheted up another notch in the last week with the publication of a new report indicating that the majority of Americans want meat raised without antibiotics to be sold in their local supermarket, writes Jackie Linden. Antibiotic use in farm livestock, including pigs, in the Netherlands continues to fall, while in the EU, agriculture ministers have endorsed a proposal to help combat antimicrobial resistance. In other news, the European Food Safety Authority has launched a public consultation on environmental risk assessment of genetically modified animals, and the UK’s Zoonoses National Control Programme will step up a gear from 1 July to help farmers identify the best salmonella control methods for their particular situation.

While the result of the consumer poll was predictable, it also indicates to producers that consumers say they are prepared to pay more for the meat produced the want they want. And although consumers are notorious for not making the purchasing choices they say they will, the poll reveals a new direction for producers in a market-driven economy such as the US.

The report, Meat on Drugs: The Overuse of Antibiotics in Food Animals and What Supermarkets and Consumers Can Do to Stop It, follows a new national poll conducted by Consumer Reports.

Consumers Union, the public policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, simultaneously launched a new marketplace campaign, urging supermarkets to sell only meat raised without antibiotics, starting with Trader Joe’s, one of the leading national chains best poised to make this commitment. It also sent a letter to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), asking it to tighten labelling standards for meat raised without antibiotics.

Consumer Reports sent “secret shoppers“ out to stores in the 13 largest supermarket chains around the country to see whether and to what degree those stores offer meat and poultry raised without antibiotics. They also conducted additional label research.

The shoppers found wide differences among the stores in the availability of meat and poultry sold that had come from animals raised without antibiotics.

Among the key findings of the report are that 86 per cent of consumers polled indicated that meat raised without antibiotics should be available in their local supermarket.

More than 60 per cent of respondents stated that they would be willing to pay at least five cents a pound more for meat raised without antibiotics. More than one-third would pay a dollar or more extra per pound.

The majority of respondents (72 per cent) said they were extremely or very concerned about the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed, including the potential to create ‘superbugs’ that are immune or resistant to antibiotics. More than 60 per cent were just as concerned with the overuse of antibiotics in animal feed allowing them to be raised in unsanitary and crowded conditions for livestock, human consumption of antibiotic residue, and environmental effects due to agricultural run–off containing antibiotics.

In the Netherlands, the use of antibiotics in livestock farming continues to drop.

The policy objective of a 20 per cent reduction in the use of antibiotics in the years 2009-2011 has been achieved with flying colours, according to new figures from LEI Wageningen UR.

For sows and piglets, the annual figures have fluctuated but there were decreases in 2010 and 2011, while there has been a decline in antibiotic use each year between 2009 and 2011 for fattening pigs.

As well as aiming to improve animal welfare and taking steps to reform the Common Agricultural Policy, EU agriculture ministers have endorsed a proposal to help combat antimicrobial resistance.

“Fighting antimicrobial resistance is a major priority of the Danish Presidency. Each year 25,000 European citizens die due to antimicrobial resistance and the problem is increasing. This calls for action. Therefore I am content in having full support for the conclusions that are expected to be adopted at the EPSCO Council 22 June,“ stated Mette Gjerskov, the Danish Minister chairing the meeting.

Turning to other food safety–related issues, the European Food Safety Authority has launched a public consultation on its draft guidance for the environmental risk assessment of genetically modified animals.

In the UK, the Zoonoses National Control Programme will step up a gear from 1 July 2012 to help farmers identify the best salmonella control methods for their particular farm. The current meat juice testing for salmonella antibodies will be suspended on that date to make way for an on–farm salmonella risk assessment tool, which will help identify the most effective control methods for each producer’s set–up.

In other news, the US senate has passed the Farm Bill – Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act – which will run for five years and is worth about a trillion dollars to the economy.