In June 2012, the Government of South Korea announced a total ban on inclusion of non-therapeutic antibiotics in feed for livestock. The action by the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MFAFF) in S. Korea corresponds to the EU ban on antibiotic growth promoters issued in January 2006. The EU directive followed similar restrictions imposed by Nordic countries between 1986 and 1998 and also by Switzerland in 1999.
According to the Yonhap News Agency, the (MFAFF) commenced inspection of production facilities in July of this year to ascertain compliance. The Agency has progressively reduced the quantity and range of antibiotics allowed in livestock feed, apparently as a result of concerns over drug resistance. According to a production industry spokesperson the rules are intended to enhance the safety of domestic product which is favored over imported pork and poultry shipped from other Asian countries and from North America and the EU. As of mid-2012 approval for the eight remaining antibiotic classes was withdrawn, although therapeutic administration under the supervision of a Veterinarian will be allowed. It is only a matter of time before Korea imposes similar restrictions on supplies of pork and broiler meat from other nations.
In March 2012 the United States-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was ratified. Duties of up to 25% on frozen pork will be phased out through January 2016. Currently the U.S. enjoys a 28% share of the Korean market for pork. The Nation is ranked fourth as an importer of U.S. product based on volume. Following outbreak of a devastating foot and mouth outbreak at the end of 2010 and extending into 2011, a third of domestic S. Korean hogs were slaughtered. Consequently imports rose significantly to meet demand. For the current year to date through November, S. Korea received 173,000 metric tons of pork valued at $454 million.
Exports of broilers meat from the U.S. are also increasing. In 2011, 108,000 metric tons of products were shipped with a value of $50 million. Industry associations predict that with the passage of the FTA, broiler exports could treble despite competition from the Philippines and Thailand. It would be to the advantage of the U.S. to secure the market in S. Korea by conforming to a specification of drug-free production, excluding antibiotics.
In 2011 Allen Family Foods was purchased by the Harim Group, the largest poultry producer in S. Korea. The Company produces in the region of 800,000 broilers per week in the U.S. with an average live weight of 2.5 kg. This output is approaching the current export volume from the U.S. to S. Korea. From the time of inception of the new ownership, Allen-Harim Foods LLC has worked closely with a team from Alltech Inc. to displace antibiotics and to apply the benefits of Alltech’s natural health solutions.
Displacing antibiotics is no longer a theoretical issue. If the U.S. is to maintain export markets for high-quality meat products it will be necessary to conform to import requirements which are driven more by political considerations and sentiment than science. The question is not whether AGPs are responsible for emerging drug resistance in human populations but whether U.S. producers are prepared to supply pork and poultry meat from herds and flocks raised without antibiotics to satisfy regulations imposed by governments and the perceptions held by consumers.