Change in antibiotic use shows pig industry responding to resistance concerns

Figures newly released through RUMA suggest the UK pig sector is making significant changes in how it stewards antibiotic use in at least one key area, with a halving in prescribed antibiotics administered in feed for young pigs.

National data collected from the UK’s major feed compounders indicate that at the beginning of 2014, 37% of all feed for young pigs contained a prescribed antibiotic; this had more than halved to 18% by the end of 2016. Furthermore two thirds of the reduction took place in 2016, showing an increasing pace of change.

Paul Toplis representing the Agriculture Industries Confederation (AIC), which is a RUMA member, said that while the figures supplied by AIC members looked at just one area of the sector, antibiotic prescriptions dispensed through feed to young pigs did represent a large proportion of use. These data confirm action was being taken to change practices.

He said: “We are encouraged to see the rate of reduction in 2016 and this reflects the work between vets and farmers to make some courageous changes. Reducing reliance on antibiotics to treat and prevent disease spread could pose significant welfare challenges if not done with the right levels of care and skill.”

Mr Toplis added that some of the reductions appear to have been made possible by the use of zinc oxide, which when added to feed at medicinal levels can reduce the need for antibiotics in pigs by protecting the gut against E. coli bacteria.

The Pig Veterinary Society welcomed the news of the reductions and acknowledged the efforts of its practising members who regularly visit the herds in their care and work with pig farmers to promote responsible and reduced use of antibiotics.

The Society’s President Susanna Williamson said: “We cannot emphasise enough the importance of veterinary expertise and advice in assessing the disease risks and selecting suitable control options. These need to be tailor-made to suit each individual farm and the effects monitored to ensure that initiatives to reduce antibiotic treatment also promote good pig health and welfare.”

Georgina Crayford of the National Pig Association said its NPA Antibiotic Stewardship Programme, launched in 2016, had been helping drive behaviour change.

She said: “Among the programme’s recommendations are the capture of usage data on pig units, benchmarking use against similar farms, and supporting strict limits on the use of critically important antibiotics. We look forward to seeing the wider effects on use as data trends from the AHDB’s e-Medicine Book, also launched last year, start to come through later in 2017.”

John FitzGerald from RUMA, the independent agricultural and food industry alliance which promotes responsible use of medicines in farm animals, welcomed the results and said they were indicative of the wider industry commitment to reductions.

He said: “These data show there is a clear drive to use antibiotics more responsibly and to work alongside the human medical community in reducing, refining and replacing use of antibiotics globally – as well as building on the successful 10% reduction in UK farm animal use in 2015.”