The European Commission has confirmed the EU-wide ban on the use of zinc oxide at medicinal levels in piglet feed, giving member states up to five years to phase it out.
A decision to withdraw all marketing authorisations for veterinary medicines containing zinc oxide was voted through by the Standing Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) in Brussels on Monday.
Member States now have a maximum of five years to withdraw the marketing authorisations for these products, a Commission spokesperson said. It will be up to the UK Government to decide whether to allow the maximum transition period in this country, which, unless Brexit heralds a different approach, would mean a ban in 2022.
While the decision to ban the feed additive was inevitable, given the recommendation of the CVMP earlier this year, the five-year phase-out period represents a mixed result for the pig sector.
It falls well short of the 10-year transition period called for by NPA and other industry bodies, but it avoids the almost immediate withdrawal some parties were pushing for.
NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said the UK pig sector would now lobby for the maximum five- year transition in the UK. Given the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s (VMD) support for the UK industry position of 10 years ahead of this decision, the NPA is hopeful of Government backing on this.
But she said the NPA would also look into whether the decision to leave the EU has any implications for how the UK handles the decision.
“I want to explore whether we could apply to transfer the current EU licence to the UK, as five years will take us past the date we expect to leave the EU.
“If we were to consider going it alone, we would obviously need to look at the implications for trade with the EU. However, zinc was banned for environmental reasons and analysis indicates use of zinc in piglet diets has little implications for soil quality in the UK. I would also question whether UK soil will still be relevant in future EU-UK trading arrangements.”
On the CVMP vote, she added: “We knew this was coming but that doesn’t make the outcome and the process behind it any more palatable. We had hoped for longer as we believe the industry will need at least 10 years to adapt to life without this vital health tool.
“But it could have been a lot worse if the industry alliance we were part of had not made such a powerful argument for more time.
“So we must now use the transition period, if zinc does go in the UK, to ensure, first and foremost, that the health and welfare of pigs are not compromised by the decision. We are concerned about the timing – losing zinc could put a major spanner in the works as the industry collectively seeks to reduce antibiotic usage on farms.
“It is encouraging that some farms are already starting to experiment with removing or reducing zinc levels from piglet diets but already we are seeing this can have unintended consequences.”
Zinc oxide is used widely across the EU to prevent and control post-weaning diarrhoea (PWD) and bowel oedema disease in young pigs. An estimated 70-90% of starter diets in the UK contain zinc oxide at therapeutic levels.
An NPA briefing on the potential ban showed application on soils in the UK remains well below limits set by Defra and is often mitigated by dilution when slurry from pigs treated with zinc oxide is mixed with slurry from untreated pigs.