Big fall in UK pig sector antibiotic usage recorded last year

The volume of antibiotics used to treat pigs on UK farms in 2021 fell by 17%, bringing the total reduction since 2015 to 69%, new figures reported by AHDB show.

According to data collected using the electronic medicine book (eMB), representing approximately 95% of pigs slaughtered in the UK, antibiotic use fell to 87mg/PCU last year, compared with 105mg/PCU in 2020.

This represents a positive step towards meeting the second set of targets developed by the RUMA Targets Task Force, of a 30% reduction in total antibiotic use by the end of 2024, based on data from 2020.

Importantly, use of the highest priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIA) remains at a very low level, with a slight decrease from 0.05mg/PCU to 0.03mg/PCU recorded in 2021. No Colistin use was reported in pigs in 2021.

HP-CIAs, as categorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), are the most important for human medical health and reductions in their use has been a focus for all UK farm animal sectors since stewardship efforts have stepped up.

The only class of antibiotic in which a reduction was not recorded is the aminoglycosides. Usage increased slightly, at 8.06mg/PCU in 2021, up from 7.89mg/PCU in 2020, continuing the trend noticed in the 2020 data.

Total antibiotic usage in pigs 2021HP-CIA data 21You can see a more detailed breakdown of the data HERE

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Grace Webster, vet and chair of the Pig Health & Welfare Council Antimicrobial Use Subgroup, saidd: “This is another strong reduction in the use of antibiotics in the UK pig herd during what has been a very difficult year for pig producers. It reflects a positive attitude and hard work by our vets and farmers to ensure that good antibiotic stewardship is applied on our pig farms.

“There are undoubtedly challenges to be addressed as the industry continues to adapt to the loss of zinc oxide to control post-weaning diarrhoea, and this is reflected in a small increase in use of aminoglycosides, but we are reassured by a further reduction in the use of the highest priority critically important antibiotics.”

AHDB Sector Council Chair, Mike Sheldon, commended the hard work of the industry: “For UK pig producers and their vets to have achieved this substantial reduction in the use of antimicrobials would have been an admirable achievement in any year. To achieve it in this last year, with all the well-known and daunting problems besetting farmers, is, frankly, incredible.”

AHDB Head of Animal Health & Welfare, Dr Mandy Nevel also praised the pig industry: “The last year has been extremely challenging for the pig sector and this reduction in antibiotic use is good news. We know that stockpersonship has a big impact on disease levels and the fact that the industry has not turned to antibiotics as a fallback during this period is a reflection on the importance with which this issue is held by the sector and the high standards we have.”

Jim Morris, Senior Vice President of PVS, said: “The Pig Veterinary Society welcomes the latest figures showing a 17% year-on-year reduction in the use of antimicrobials by the UK pig sector. This reflects a lot of hard work by British pig farmers and their vets and reflects their commitment to the responsible use of antibiotics. The fall in the use of highest priority critically important antibiotics is particularly welcomed.”

NPA senior policy adviser Rebecca Veale said: “The eMB figures for 2021 show the continued focus of pig producers and vets on the responsible approach to medicine use and pig health – the reductions are totally down to their sustained efforts.

“The last few years have, and continue, to be challenging for producers following labour issues, the backlog and rising input costs, but they have not let standards slip and pig health and welfare remains high, something which they should be very proud of.”

“As the pig sector our commitment to the responsible use of medicines remains resolute. We set voluntary targets through the RUMA Targets Task Force in 2017 and 2020, they are ambitious and set the direction of travel with both numerical and holistic targets. We acknowledge there will be further challenges, including regulatory change, but the latest eMB figures show we’re well on the path to meet these by 2024.”

Data are submitted to the eMB, supported by a Red Tractor and QMS requirement for quarterly submission, before being analysed by AHDB and shared with the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS), NPA, Pig Health and Welfare Council, RUMA, Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and other stakeholders to generate a holistic view of antibiotic use in its sector. The data allow industry to look at the more nuanced variations in individual antibiotic use to identify potential optimisations.

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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.