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Pig sector rises up to the challenge

AMR in Focus: Over the last few years farming practice and the use of antibiotics in animals has been in sharp focus – none more so than the UK pig industry.

Historically, it is acknowledged as a high user of antibiotics compared to other mainstream farm animal species. However, usage levels have been in line with other major pig producing countries, both within and outside the EU.

Measuring and monitoring antibiotic use

The UK pig industry has already embarked on a major effort to improve responsible use of antibiotics and reduce usage. This reduction was confirmed when the Targets Task Force reported in late October.

The first step on the road to achieving substantial reduction in use is to measure it and to this end an electronic medicine’s book, eMBPigs, has been developed by AHDB Pork, working in conjunction with VMD and pig industry stakeholders. The aim is to be able to measure use on a quarterly basis and to monitor reduction over time at both the individual farm level and over the whole industry. Its use is UK wide.

A number of options exist as to how data can be entered, including as a direct and exact replication and replacement of the requirements of standard medicine use recording that applies to all species. For sectors where use is low and sporadic, this option will be highly relevant, and discussions are already in place to undertake trials in the beef sector.

The majority of pig farms that have been using the system for the last year enter consolidated data – total number of bottles etc. used per month or quarter – as a summary of their use. Usage is standardised by applying a European Medicines Agency system in which the total amounts of active antibiotic sales are expressed in terms of mg/kg PCU (where PCU equals population correction unit). This will ultimately allow for accurate comparisons across European countries.

Achieving reductions

Allied to the programme is a focus on controlling use of Critically Important Antibiotics: Fluoroquinolones, third/fourth generation Cephalosporins and Colistin. Usage of the first 2 groups is very low in pigs and has more than halved in recent years. The aim is to see no rise in use. Colistin use has been low compared to other European countries and has declined to virtually negligible levels this year. It remains legally available should the need arise.

Uppermost in the mind of veterinary surgeons remains the need to achieve the targeted reductions without compromising pig health and welfare.

Reductions achieved thus far, many of which have been substantial, have revolved around removing longstanding infeed prophylactic medication on farms with enzootic disease following attention to husbandry and housing, and in some cases increased vaccinal use. Many have involved significant investment in accommodation. In some cases, use of such medication has historically been based on fear of breakdown and subsequent disease problems which may not arise.

A shift towards targeted metaphylaxis via the water has enabled reliance on feed medication to be reduced. Use of routine treatment in baby pigs at birth (to prevent scour, joint ill etc.) has come under sharp focus for cessation, particularly given the now recognised damage to the developing microbiota of the gut and nasopharynx that occurs from using broad spectrum therapeutic levels of antibiotics in the new-born animal.

A look ahead

Disease elimination strategies – which perversely require short term high antibiotic use for long-term reduction – are being developed and employed but are hugely dependent on disease picture, farm structure, geography and costs.

It’s encouraging to see the response in the sector to the challenge laid down, which bodes well for achieving our ambitious 2020 goal of over 60% reduction in antibiotic use. With usage in the pig sector falling by around 35% between 2015 and 2016, it is evident that the sector – steered mainly by the members of the Pig Veterinary Society, AHDB Pork and the National Pig Association – has the will and the capability to fully engage with the issue.

More information

  • Our special blog series on antimicrobial resistance, AMR in Focus, invites experts from the fields of veterinary science, academia and government to share perspectives on key achievements, latest research and future action needed to tackle this serious issue. All opinions in the blogs reflect those of the writer.
  • For more discussions on antimicrobial resistance, join us at BVA Congress at the London Vet Show (16-17 November) for a Friday afternoon session on  'The psychology of antimicrobial resistance: what can social science tell us?', featuring David Brodbelt, Professor of Evidence-based Veterinary Medicine at Royal Veterinary College; Ian Donald,  Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Director, Mulberry Research & Consulting Ltd, and Kristen Reyher, Senior Lecturer in Farm Animal Science at the University of Bristol.


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