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The pig industry's continuing progress on antibiotic usage

9th Feb 2022 / By Alistair Driver

The NPA has highlighted ongoing progress in moving towards responsible antibiotic use in pig farming, after the most recent edition of Countryfile included a focus on antibiotic usage in farming. 

The Countryfile feature (which can be viewed HERE, from about 18 mins) highlighted progress made in reducing usage in most sectors, but questioned whether more accurate data recording was needed in the sheep and cattle sectors. 

Asked why the rate of reduction appeared to have plateaued in some sectors, RUMA chair Cat McLaughlin said the aim was to find the balance between responsible use and the health and welfare of farmed animals. 

New EU regulation banning preventative use of antibiotics has just come into force, and Defra told the programme that is looking to introduce further legislation to address 'unnecessary use of antbiotics', and will consult on proposed changes this year.

Ms McLaughlin said RUMA does not support routine preventative use of antibiotics, but would not like to see a blanket ban on preventative use in the UK as the voluntary approach to responsible use of antibiotics is producing good results. 

In a statement, RUMA said it feels that compulsory controls are a ‘blunt tool’ which wouldn’t take into account the complexities across each of the sectors. "There is also a real danger that blanket bans will be to the detriment of animal health and welfare," RUMA general Secretary Chris Lloyd said. 

"RUMA believes it is important for vets to have medicines available to tackle disease and ensure animal health and welfare, following the principles of responsible use: as little as possible, but as much as is necessary, at the right time and in the right situations." 

The Countryfile feature also raised concerns over potential dual standards for imports under new trade deals with countries like Australia where antibiotic usage in agriculture is significantly higher.  

Antibiotic use in the pig industry

The latest VARSS report, released by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) in November, highlighted progress made in the pig sector in reducing antibiotic use:

  • According to eMB data covering more than 95% of pigs, antibiotic usage fell by to 105mg/kg in 2020, down from 110.5mg/kg in 2019.
  • This represents a 62% reduction from the 2015 baseline of 277mg/kg.
  • Crucially, eMB data also showed levels of HP-CIA antibiotics (those also important in human medicine) in the pig sector at just 0.05mg/kg, slightly up on 2019, but representing a massive reduction from 0.98mg/kg in 2015, and a long way below EU limits.
  • No resistance to third/fourth generation cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones was detected in salmonella isolates pigs.
  • Resistance to fluoroquinolones and third generation cephalosporins remains low in E.coli isolates in pigs compared to 2018.

VARSS 2020 emb


The UK pig sector has been widely praised for its pioneering antibiotic data recording work with eMB-Pigs. 

After ambitious targets were set for reducing antibiotic usage by 2020, a further tranche of targets have been set by the industry for 2024. 

Progress towards these include: 

  • A new programme supporting persistently high user (PHUs) to reduce use - the requirement for PHU’s to complete and implement an antibiotic reduction plan (ARP) was added in version 5 of Red Tractor’s Pig Standards from November 1.
  • Maintaining/increasing on-time submission of data to eMB annually.
  • Medicines training uptake - Red Tractor has also brought in a standard requiring at least one team member on each unit to have undertaken training in the responsible use of medicines.
  • The eMB data also highlighted the growing trend away from in-feed medication towards water medication.

VARSS admin pigs