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Great progress on antibiotics - but what's on the horizon in 2018?

26th Dec 2017 / By Georgina Crayford

Another year nearly over… where does the time go?! I know lots of people spent a considerable amount of it working on all things antibiotics in 2017.

Georgina CAnd the pig industry is in a greatly improved position because of the hard work of those people. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again – I am hugely proud of how our sector has got behind the issue of antibiotic use and AMR. Many could have quite easily dismissed it as 'not my problem' but that’s not how we do things is it?

As a result, we now have electronic recording of on-farm antibiotic use, we demonstrated a 34% reduction in antibiotic use in just one year and we’ve committed to an overall reduction of 60% by 2020. The press may well continue to claim that farmers are 'pumping their animals with antibiotics' but the proof will be in the [black] pudding. So we mustn’t rest on our laurels; further reductions need to happen but I’m confident the industry has the capability to deliver. It’s all about attitude.

Getting a handle on the industry’s endemic disease challenges will be crucial to making further reductions in antibiotic use. The collaborative work going on in the East region to control PRRSv is praiseworthy and exactly the kind of thing we need to see more of in 2018. I am hopeful that discussions in recent weeks with Defra about possible RDP funding for a national PRRSv control programme will come to fruition – we’ll have to wait and see. Nonetheless, improved transparency and communication about health status between pig producers, their neighbours, suppliers and buyers should be a priority for this coming year.

What’s on the horizon when it comes to pig health and welfare? The steady march of ASF westwards across Europe is of course something that we will all need to keep an eye on. Thankfully, APHA have ramped up their communications, issuing warnings to pig keepers about the danger of feeding kitchen scraps to pigs and reminders to food businesses that supply food stuffs for animal feed. Everyone has a part to play in minimising the chance of an ASF incursion and should be on high alert for signs and symptoms.

Another 'hot topic' which we are likely to hear more about in 2018 is tail docking. In November I attended a workshop organised by the European Commission, at which it became very clear that they are putting tail docking under the magnifying glass and expecting to see a great deal more progress than they’ve seen to date. They seem to be aware that it is not as simple as adding a bit of straw.  However, they want to see concrete evidence that pig farmers have addressed environmental factors, particularly stocking rates, before docking. One of the Commission staff said that simply providing the minimum space allowance is not enough – more space must be given before docking is performed. NPA will continue to push for authorities to take a sensible approach and we’ll constantly remind them that tail-biting is a complex behaviour, but be prepared for things to tighten up around this issue.

Livestock-associated MRSA is another thing that is likely to be in the spotlight this year. While we believe that prevalence in the UK pig herd is low, it would of course be ideal if things could stay that way. Later in the year there will be a roundtable event focusing on LA-MRSA with the aim of developing an industry “strategy” for dealing with this “superbug”, which although poses low risk to human health, has significant potential to damage the reputation of the industry.


I want to finish by saying that it gives me great pleasure to work for and support an industry that is so proactive and eager for self-improvement. There will always be challenges ahead, but no challenge is insurmountable especially when the good people of the UK pig industry get their heads together and muck in. I wish you all the very best for 2018!