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No need to reinvent the wheel in addressing antibiotic challenge

19th Mar 2018 / By Alistair Driver

NPA senior policy Georgina Crayford has challenged pig producers to consider making at least one change on their farm to use antibiotics more responsibly.

Reinvent wheelSpeaking at a recent conference in Armagh, Northern Ireland, focusing on how advances in nutrition can help address the antibiotic challenge, Georgina outlined what she had learned from her Nuffield Scholarship travels looking at attitudes towards antibiotics in livestock around the world.

While there are lots of new products coming onto the market, some of which are likely to be useful in meeting the challenge, her key message is that there is ‘no need to reinvent the wheel’.

It is about pig farmers doing what they already do a little bit better – getting backing to basics, she said. That means minimising pig-to-pig contact, reducing unnecessary stress among the pigs, proper hygiene and good nutrition.

The UK pig industry, which has made significant strides in reducing antibiotic use over the past 18 months, including a 34% cut last year, has been set a target of reducing overall usage by 62%, to 99mg/PCU between 2015 and 2020.

Georgina said the challenge was ‘not insurmountable’ and urged producers to engage with their vets to proactively tackle herd health issues. Examples of ‘good vet spend’, include vaccines, data analysis, diagnostics herd health planning and biosecurity, she told the conference, which was organised by AB Vista.  

She also cited examples from her Nuffield travels of how co-ordinated national health control programmes make a ‘huge difference’ to maintaining national herd health and reducing antibiotic usage.

She concluded her presentation by asking the audience: “What one thing will you change on your farm in order to use antibiotics more responsibly?”

Panel discussion

During a panel question and answer session, the speakers discussed how to ensure engagement with the antibiotic challenge across the pig sector, not just among those who are already changing practices.

“It’s about identifying who those high users of antibiotics are and giving them the right support,” Georgina said, adding that change should be pursued via ‘a little bit of carrot and an element of stick as well’.

Showcasing examples of farmers who have successfully reduced antibiotics to inspire others will help bring about change, she added.

The panel discussed the challenge of reducing antibiotic use while also coping without zinc oxide as it is phased out at medicinal levels in piglet feed by 2022. Experts agreed that zinc oxide has played a key role in maintaining the health of post-weaned piglets and said more research was needed into alternatives.