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NPA to fight recommendation for EU zinc oxide feed ban

13th Dec 2016 / By Alistair Driver

In what could be a major blow to the UK pig sector, EU veterinary experts have recommended a ban on the use of zinc oxide in animal feed.

pigs feedingIf the European Commission goes on to accept recommendations from the European Medicines Agency’s Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP), a ban would remove a key tool in controlling post-weaning diarrhoea.

The NPA, which will fight a ban, warned it would also significantly hamper the pig sector’s drive to reduce antibiotic usage.

At its latest meeting last week, the CVMP recommended withdrawing existing marketing authorisations and refusing to grant new ones for veterinary medicinal products containing zinc oxide destined to be administered orally to food producing species.

Zinc oxide is added to feed at therapuetic levels for the management of post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets. Piglets often scour in the immediate post-weaning period due to physiological changes to their gut, the stress of weaning and coping with a new environment.

Post-weaning diarrhoea is associated with E.coli infections, which zinc is effective at controlling. Consequently, use of zinc oxide in piglet feed can result in lower use of antimicrobials, according to NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford.

The CVMP, made up of representatives of national authorities and agencies, including the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), acknowledged the benefits of zinc oxide for the prevention of diarrhoea.

But, by consensus, it concluded that, overall, the benefit-risk balance associated with zinc oxide was negative due to the risks to the environment. It considered use of these products leads to a significant increase in soil zinc concentrations to levels considered harmful for the environment.

Effective measures to manage and reduce accumulation were not identified and, as a result, the committee concluded that the benefits of zinc oxide for the prevention of diarrhoea in pigs do not outweigh the risks to the environment.

However, the committee acknowledged that the risk is not currently quantifiable.

Bolt out of the blue

The Netherlands and France, neither of which use zinc oxide, referred the issue to the committee due to concerns about a potential risk to the environment and increased prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria from the use of products containing it.

The committee’s stance has come as a bolt out of the blue for the UK pig sector, generating concern across the industry.

The recommendation comes on top of a proposals earlier this year to reduce the maximum copper content allowed in piglet feed.

The European Commission will have the final say and the NPA is now seeking to establish what the process will entail and the prospects the industry has of persuading the Commission to reject the CVMP’s opinion. 

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: “We will fight this. We will be making our feelings known at UK and EU level and establishing, as a priority, what grounds we have to oppose a ban.

“We know zinc oxide is an effective product and has significant benefits for animal health and welfare.

“We will be arguing very strongly that the negative impact on pig health and our drive to reduce antibiotic usage will outweigh any so far unproven risks."