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Educating the medics on antibiotic use in pigs

4th Oct 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Medics AB visit

A group of high-profile medics, including Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, visited a pig farm recently to learn about the reality of antibiotic use in the sector. 

The visit to one of Bedfordia Farm's indoor pig units was organised by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) alliance and the NPA in response to an open letter signed by various notable people from the medical profession about a year ago.

The letter, directed to the Health and Defra Secretaries of State,  called for an immediate ‘UK-wide ban on the routine preventative mass medication of animals’. The invite to see how pig farming works in practice was seen as an opportunity to set the record straight. 

In her latest Pig World column, NPA chief executive Zoe Davies (pictured in the middle of the group) wrote: "We took them to a large commercial high hygiene unit and while this would be exactly the type of set-up that the ASOA (Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics) would seek to portray as high antibiotic users (indoor fully slatted weaners and finishers), it was absolutely spotless, very impressively run and a huge credit to the staff.

"They also use very low levels of antibiotics – epic fail for the anti-farming lobby.

"The medics were impressed, although, sadly, most of the chat in the sidelines related to farrowing crates, lack of straw and ‘will my hair smell afterwards?’ There were enough sensible people to address any concerns and hopefully they left feeling less worried about agriculture than when they arrived."

A wholly positive experience 

Also writing in Pig World, RUMA chair Gwyn Jones said engaging with the medical VIPs was 'a wholly positive experience'. The visit took the group through farrowing to weaning, service and pregnant sows.

Mr Jones said: "While managing director Ian Smith showed off the family farming business’ newer housing and gadgets, he and his pig production manager Christian Andersen didn’t shy away from farrowing crates, older buildings with ACNV systems, or groups of squealing, pregnant sows jostling over automatic feeders.

"While the farm is a below-average user of antibiotics and has managed to reduce use by a further 80% since 2015, the unit is representative of many pig farms today: a range of new and old technologies, varying infrastructure and its own particular challenges. Despite standard biosecurity measures, visitors are not protected from smells and noise behind glass screens.

"The reaction? Mixed, as one would expect. However, all in the group left with a better understanding of what commercial pig farming involves."