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EU committee to re-evaluate zinc oxide decision

23rd Jan 2017 / By Alistair Driver

The evidence behind the shock recommendation to ban zinc oxide from piglet feed is to be reviewed, following a number of appeals from across the EU. 

pigs feedingThe NPA has been among those leading the fightback, after the EU Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP) made its recommendation in December on the back of environmental concerns about the use of zinc oxide.

The NPA and others have argued that the committee’s claim that the environmental risk from using the product outweighs the benefits it delivers for piglet health in addressing post-weaning diarrhoea is based on a flawed assessment. 

The CVMP has now decided to re-evaluate its opinion on this topic. It will have up to 60 days from February 6 to carry out its review, suggesting its final opinion will be reached by the beginning of April.

Once the final opinion is published, the European Commission will begin the formal decision-making process.

NPA briefing

Last week NPA sent a comprehensive briefing to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which represents the UK on the CVMP, outlining the impact of a zinc oxide ban on the pig industry.

The NPA estimates that 70-90 per cent of starter diets contain zinc oxide at therapeutic levels, meaning a ban would cause 'a widespread deterioration in pig health and welfare', as well as having a significant impact on farm productivity. 

"Losing medicinal zinc oxide would seriously hamper the ability of the pig sector to further reduce its use of antibiotics. An increased use of antibiotics above their current levels may, in turn, result in further development of bacterial resistance, jeopardising the health of both animals and humans," the NPA briefing said.

The briefing, put together by senior advisor Georgina Crayford, also addressed the committee's concerns about environmental pollution from use of zinc oxide in this way.

It pointed out that the application rate of zinc onto UK soils from pig slurry is estimated to be well below the limit applied by Defra and the Environment Agency and is regulated through this route. This mitigates the input of zinc into soil from manuring.

Dilution of slurry from pigs treated with zinc oxide with that from untreated pigs is commonplace on pig units in the UK and indeed across Europe, the briefing added.

The NPA has collected evidence to support its claims in an online survey, which is now closed. Dr Crawford thanked those who taken the time to fill in the survey, which she hopes will bolster the case to retain the product. 

In its briefing, the NPA pointed out that the environmental risk of zinc oxide varies throughout the EU.

It concluded: "NPA is strongly against any ban on the therapeutic use of zinc oxide and instead would favour either a regionalised application of policy, or an approach that reduces the inclusion levels of zinc oxide to minimise environmental risk without jeopardising pig health and welfare."

Ban not justified

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: "We welcome the announcement that the CVMP will now review its opinion on banning zinc oxide, which we have always insisted is not justified by the evidence in front of us.

"We will continue to argue that the huge benefits of using zinc oxide in piglet feed far outweigh any environmental costs, which can be mitigated by either adopting a regional approach or reducing inclusion levels."

The NPA is working closely with other UK industry bodies such as the Pig Veterinary Society, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and AHDB Pork and counterparts in other EU member states, as it responds to the recommendation.