Why, and how, we must continue to drive down antibiotic use

Pig Veterinary Society past president Richard Pearson played a major role in developing the new targets as a member of the Targets Task Force II, alongside NPA chairman Richard Lister. Here, he explains why, despite the progress made over the last few years, the job is not finished.

The PHWC Antimicrobial Use subgroup has done a great job formulating the next round of antibiotic usage targets for the pig sector.

Richard Lister and myself have both been heavily involved with this group and have also been responsible for taking these targets forward to RUMA. The process of mapping a route forward for the pig sector has been really interesting and really challenging, including learning more and sharing ideas on antibiotics with the other species sectors.

As we approached this second round of target setting, the pig sector found itself in a significantly better place with respect to antibiotic use than it was five years ago, and much credit must go to Mark White and Richard for their contribution towards this.

The last couple of years have seen a lot of consultation with pig vets, pig farmers, regulatory authorities and many others. This was crucial work as we know the path forward from here is going to be more challenging and we need to maintain that groundswell of support and positive attitude that has seen a 60% reduction so far.

  • To read more about the new antibiotic targets, CLICK HERE

We also knew we had to broaden out the targets to include some more holistic elements to managing and monitoring pig health- chasing numbers in isolation just won’t work in the longer term!

A complicating element in all of this has been Brexit (as ever!) and two very important pieces of EU legislation concerning veterinary medicines and medicated feed that are racing towards us in 2022. We still do not know exactly how all of this will affect, or indeed how all of this will be transposed into UK legislation but, the ‘playing field’ most certainly will look different with regards pig health management and the role of antibiotics therein.

The TTF2 headline, and main numerical target, of a 30% reduction in pig sector use from 2020 to 2024 is most certainly ambitious but, we firmly believe this is achievable. We will obviously not know until early 2021 exactly where our 2020 use ended up but, it is likely the final number will be in the low 70’s mg/kg PCU.

So, the direction of travel must and will definitely stay downward for the time being. There are many, many reasons why this is the case but prominent amongst them are the need to preserve the efficacy of these crucial treatments for the future and so that pig meat, and especially British Pork, can find itself in a resilient and sustainable position for consumers faced with alternative protein sources, or from pig meat from other countries.

It is important to make the differentiation at this stage between the national targets across all production classes mentioned above, and it’s relationship with individual farm level use. Every farm is different and it is well recognised that there will always be a spectrum of use.

A large proportion of farms are already using well under the 70mg/kg figure and it would clearly be ridiculous to suggest they work upward towards the ‘target’! We are well aware that there are significant differences in PCU ranges and averages for different types of production and so again, a single target doesn’t work.

Persistently high users of antibiotics (PHU’s) will be identified using new functionality in eMB and encouraged to develop an Antibiotic Reduction Plan (ARP) with their veterinary surgeon.

This is about encouraging improvement, not publicly shaming anyone- eMB data remains a confidential resource with only producer and allocated vet having access. PHWC AMU group have developed an ARP template to help with this process – it has been designed to be relatively simple to produce and, importantly, review actions over time.

Other non-numerical targets in the pig sector proposals cover off important aspects such as:

  • monitoring for the development of AMR (after all, this is one of the main reasons for wishing to control antibiotic use).
  • monitoring pig health using reliable surveillance tools such as Pig Health Scheme- hopefully this can re-start in the near future.
  • encouraging a continued shift in mode of delivery of antibiotics to pigs from in-feed to in-water so as to help targeting of pigs really requiring treatment, rather than a bigger population. We do hope some elements of post Brexit grant finding either within, or without, the Pathway may be helpful here.
  • encouraging uptake of vet med training so that we can optimise responsible use and improve all of our understanding of pig health and the part that antibiotics have to play.
  • data in the form of eMB has been one of our ‘trump cards’ compared to some other sectors and in facilitating our progress. Timely submission of accurate data remains crucial and we hope to encourage wider uptake from non-assured farms too.

Predicting the future is always fraught with difficulty and, in some instances, will be challenging but we have already made great progress and I really hope these proposals can take us forward again.

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About The Author

Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.