The use of prescribed antibiotics administered in feed for young pigs has halved over the past three years, figures released by RUMA suggest.
Data collected from the UK’s major feed compounders indicates that the proportion of all feed for young pigs containing a prescribed antibiotic fell from 37% at the beginning of 2014 to 18% by the end of 2016, with two thirds of the reduction taking place last year.
Paul Toplis, from the Agriculture Industries Confederation, which is a RUMA member, said the data confirmed action was being taken to change practices.
He said some of the reductions appeared to have been made possible by the use of zinc oxide, which is currently facing a ban for medicinal use in young piglets. When added to feed at medicinal levels, zinc can reduce the need for antibiotics in pigs by protecting the gut against E. coli bacteria, he said.
Mr Toplis 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 represented a large proportion of use.
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.”
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.”
National Pig Association senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford said the association’s 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 industry alliance which promotes responsible use of medicines in farm animals, said the results 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.”