The threat to the use of zinc calls for a logical, analytical response

As this is my first column for 2017, I would like to start by wishing everyone a happy, healthy and successful year. The last 12 months threw up plenty of surprises for the AHDB Pork team, which meant we had to be responsive and our plans had to go slightly off-course.

The proposal to prohibit the use of zinc oxide in pig diets is one example – a significant threat to piglet health, wellbeing and, ultimately, productivity. The proposal came from those responsible for product licensing in Europe, citing soil contamination and water pollution.

Our veterinary team manager, Martin Smith, and his team, accompanied by the National Pig Association and the Pig Veterinary Society, got straight onto the case. To produce a defence argument, we must keep ‘the issue’ as the point of focus, which was the zinc contamination of soil from pigs. It’s easy to think of other sources of zinc contamination to land, but that’s irrelevant in this case. The spotlight is on us.

This is where the feed sector, in particular Paul Topliss, came in, as we posed the question – ‘how much zinc is there in feed?’ And, by assuming that it all comes out, we got the worst-case scenario. We then looked at how much slurry (or muck) is produced. With Nitrate Vulnerable Zones (NVZ) rules being the restricting factor, how much zinc are we actually applying?

It’s easy to think of other sources of zinc contamination to land, but that’s irrelevant in this case. The spotlight is on us.

We took a logical approach, going through the process step by step. I can’t say much about the answer because it’s being verified. However, initially, on a whole herd basis, it appears we’re well within the safe limit.

Throughout the year, we often get asked to comment on different issues, including Government consultations. While not being highly visible to the levy payer, they can have far-reaching implications.

Again, we have to stay focused on the objectives, understand where any proposed changes have come from, and follow a logical process to support our case.
In the run-up to Christmas, the Environment Agency asked us about the thresholds for nitrogen deposition rates to sensitive habitats. You may wonder how this affects you, unless you are permitted. However, what may appear to be inconsequential changes to those who propose them could result in substantial costs to the livestock industries, or even create exclusion zones.

For this reason, the proposals had to be examined, analysed, impacts assessed and a logical argument created. We are now in the waiting stage.
This approach of logical and methodical analysis can be applied to a lot of things we do. With reducing antibiotic use so high up the agenda, looking at buildings and water supplies in this way is imperative. There will be more on that another time, and from the rest of the team.

The question is – does this methodical approach work? It did for me this morning, as I found the keys to my tool cupboard before a disc cutter was called in!

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About The Author

Nigel Penlington joined AHDB Pigs in 2004 and is now the organisation’s head of research and development and knowledge exchange.