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NPA response to antibiotic claims published in the Guardian

3rd Nov 2017 / By Alistair Driver

The Guardian has published a response by the NPA to misleading comments published following last Friday's announcement about antibiotic targets. 

A Guardian article stated that, in the UK, the main use of antibiotics in pig rearing is to treat post-weaning diarrhoea among piglets, a 'frequent complaint when piglets are taken from their mothers too soon'. An alternative to antibiotic use would be to leave piglets with their mothers for a few weeks longer, the article added.

It also claimed that 'one of the reasons for the reduction in antibiotic use in pig farming is believed to be the increase in use of zinc oxide'.

The NPA's response, written by senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford, can be viewed on the Guardian website and is published in full here:  

Your article (Farming sector aims to cut antibiotics use to help tackle human resistance, theguardian.com, 27 October) states that post-weaning diarrhoea is “a frequent complaint when piglets are taken from their mothers too soon”.

In reality, weaning is a stressful time for piglets regardless of what age they are. The stress of the change from the sow’s milk to solid food, mixing with piglets from other litters and transportation to new accommodation makes piglets susceptible to E coli and other organisms which cause diarrhoea. Since later weaning is not commercially viable and can be detrimental to the welfare of the sow, farmers employ numerous other measures to support piglets through this challenging stage of production, enabling weaning at 28 days of age, as permitted by legislation.

It is disappointing that, rather than praising the impressive reduction in antibiotic use in pig farming (a 34% drop between 2015 and 2016), the article suggests that one of the reasons for the reduction is the increase in use of zinc oxide. While the use of zinc oxide in piglet diets in the post-weaning period is supporting reductions in antibiotic use on pig farms, ensuring piglet suffering is avoided, data from one of the major suppliers of piglet starter feed in the UK suggest that total zinc use is actually slightly declining. Since zinc oxide is a prescription-only medicine, veterinary oversight ensures it is used appropriately.
Dr Georgina Crayford
Senior policy adviser, National Pig Association

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