US pork group counters antibiotics report with online campaign

CHICAGO - A leading US pork association will use an online marketing campaign to counter a critical television documentary on antibiotics use in livestock, pointing consumers to industry-funded websites that defend the practice, according to an association email.

The National Pork Board sent out an email about the strategy to food and agriculture officials in advance of Tuesday evening's PBS Frontline programme entitled, "The Trouble with Antibiotics".

The industry was taking steps to "monitor, engage and respond to any and all media coverage of this story," Jarrod Sutton, vice president for social responsibility at the National Pork Board, said in the email seen by Reuters.

One of those steps is to use "Paid Search Engine Optimization (SEO)", according to the email. SEO is a widely employed marketing tactic that aims to get a website to show up higher in a search engine's results for particular search terms.

"The industry will tie any consumer searches for 'PBS Frontline' and 'Antibiotics' to the US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance site, Food Source," the email stated. "Included in these searches will be the terms 'pork, antibiotics and Frontline.' In those cases, users will be directed to the National Pork Board and [National Pork Producers Council] NPPC site"

Sutton told Reuters the email was just notifying "our customers and consumers" of something they might find of interest.

Sutton, whose email outlined how the pork board was working with livestock commodity groups and others, told Reuters that "SEO is an emerging way to best direct consumers to accurate and publicly available information."

Sutton and the National Pork Board did not answer questions about specifics of the SEO effort. It is not clear when the SEO effort would start. A Google search of these terms by Reuters on Tuesday did not list any of the sites mentioned in the email in the first 10 pages of search results, nor to ads leading to those sites.

Officials for US Farmers and Ranchers Alliance and NPPC could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

Search engine marketing can vary. Some companies use optimized key words and other techniques to rise to the top of standard search results, while others pay for ads on a search engine's pages. Some firms attempt to "game" search results - a practice that Google Inc and others guard against.

A preview video on PBS' website showed a series of video clips of farms and scientific labs and questioned whether "decades of antibiotics in our farm animals" may be linked to antimicrobial resistant bacteria.

Scientists fear the widespread use of antibiotics on farms may be a factor in the rise of "superbugs" - bacteria that grow resistant to drugs and infect humans.

In 2003, US Food and Drug Administration announced plans to evaluate every new animal drug based on the drug's potential to create superbugs. A Reuters review of FDA data shows the agency has not reviewed the vast majority of animal drugs now on the market, because most were approved before 2003.