Five years ‘sufficient time to adapt to zinc oxide ban’

Five years should be sufficient time for the UK pig industry to adapt to life without zinc oxide, according to pig medicine specialist David Burch.

Mr Burch, a past president of the Pig Veterinary Society, congratulated the European Commission’s on its ‘pragmatic’ decision which received 83% support in the final vote by the Standing Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) in June.

The committee voted to withdraw all marketing authorisations for veterinary medicines containing zinc oxide, giving member states a maximum of five years to do so. It will be up to the UK Government to decide whether to allow the maximum transition period in this country.

Mr Burch said: “I think five years is sufficient time for most pig farmers to improve their husbandry position to reduce post-weaning stress, so that the majority of farms can go through weaning without major problems.

“The alternative, an immediate ban, would have been disastrous. The Dutch have been managing weaning without the widespread use of Colistin and other antibiotics and some lessons can be learnt there.

“This is, however, one of the authorities’ concerns – that farmers will just resort to antibiotic use, at a time when we are trying to reduce it. There are new vaccines becoming available, which should reduce the incidence of diarrhoea and mortality for the more severe cases.”

Brexit opportunity

Brexit might provide opportunities for the UK to take its own decisions, he added. “This is an EU decision and if we are completely out of the EU then presumably, it will become a national registration,” he said.

“There may be fresh questions to answer, especially on the environmental aspects, but we have time to research what is the impact of manure application on soils. The data in the UK, provided so far, shows soils associated with pig farming to have deficits in zinc, so there is an opportunity to explore this further in the next five years to see if there really is a problem or not. Possibly, Defra or AHDB pork might consider this?”

Mr Burch questioned the decision-making process and the evidence-base that underpinned the ban. He suspects the process was ‘strongly influenced’ France and the Netherlands, which brought the initial referral against zinc oxide.

“Denmark also brought forward environmental data that could be considered of concern but the interpretation of the data was challenged by the International Zinc Association, as it did not take into account soil binding but this seemed to have been ignored,” Mr Burch said.

“Denmark cannot be considered a representative country as they produce 11 times more weaner pigs than the EU average. This did cause some concern over the final opinion of the CVMP. It highlighted further research work needed to be done across the EU to clarify the situation before a final decision could or should have been made but procedurally it was not permissible.”

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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.