From the Executive Director

The pig pays for everything

I recently attended a meeting that pro-vided a progress report on the imple-mentation of A Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance.1 This action plan was the product of an interagency task force co-chaired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the National Institutes of Health, and organized to plan "federal actions to address the emerging threat of antimicrobial resistance." Part of the plan includes veterinary medicine and animal agriculture.

After listening to speakers from the CDC and FDA deliver their presentations and answer audience questions, I came to the realization that the old adage "the pig pays for everything" will once again ring true for antimicrobial resistance. A number of action items in the plan mention veterinary medicine and animal health. But when speakers were asked about funding for research or programming that might benefit animal health and production, they shrugged their shoulders and answered that it was not within their realm of responsibility to help producers and veterinarians.

My frustration with answers like these is that many speakers and activists stand up and say that resistance is a "societal problem." They just conveniently forget to include animal agriculture as part of their "society." They view public health as relating only to human health. Too often, animal agriculture is seen only as a target for regulatory or legislative action and not as a potential partner in seeking meaningful solutions. Accusing fingers are quick to point at animal agriculture, but not to provide resources to find practical and reasonable solutions.

If animal agriculture is going to take action, it will certainly be at our own expense and as a result of our own impetus. Certainly the United States Department of Agriculture is working to provide resources that will aid the pork industry in finding practical solutions to antimicrobial resistance. Budgets and resources, however, are limited, and human health will always trump animal health.

So what can we do? We need to move away from whining about the CDC and FDA. I am the first to admit that I have been among the whiners. The CDC and the FDA are what they are, and we will not change their nature, nor will swine veterinarians ever be seen as objective parties by either agency. We need to continue to provide meaningful scientific input to federal agencies, but if we want to get the agencies' attention, then we also need to follow the money! Congress holds the purse strings and thus can hold an agency responsible for actions or inactions. It is amazing what a call or letter to a congressman from a concerned constituent can do.

We need to broaden our efforts to educate the public about pig health and pork production. The public includes government bureaucrats, physicians, consumers, politicians, and maybe even the activists. The lack of knowledge about agricultural production is pervasive and widespread. And the ignorance is growing! Anything that we can do to stem this tide of misperceptions and lack of knowledge will pay off in the long run.

A dramatic example of education in action happened this summer when the AASV hosted a pork production tour for a CDC official in charge of antimicrobial resistance programming. This was a pediatrician who had never been on a pig farm. His perceptions were based on what he had heard from the activist groups opposed to the pork industry. The farm's veterinarian was honest, sincere, and forthcoming about how we raise pigs. As a result of the tour, this same official stood up 2 weeks later at a scientific meeting of 200 physicians, researchers, and government officials and defended pork production. He challenged spoken misperceptions about hog farms. He even commented publicly that the infection control and biosecurity on the pig farm he visited is better than that found in some hospitals!

Lastly, we need to prioritize the limited resources for their best use, whether for research, education, or advocacy. Part of our AASV action plan must be in cooperation and participation with other stakeholders, but there are key areas for which swine veterinarians need to shoulder the responsibility and take the lead for the industry. We cannot depend on others to accomplish our goals for us. We have to identify the areas that require the most attention and offer the most opportunity for success.

If the pig has to pay for everything, then we need to be sure that we are getting our money's worth.

Reference - refereed

1. Federal Interagency Task Force on Antimicrobial Resistance. A Public Health Action Plan to Combat Antimicrobial Resistance (Part I Domestic Issues).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2001. Available at: . Accessed July 17, 2002.


--Tom Burkgren