The routine use of antibiotics in animals intended for slaughter appears to be waning in light of consistent evidence that this is contributing to increasing resistance in humans.
In 2014, 27% of all feed for young pigs contained a prescribed antibiotic. By the end of 2016, this figure halved to 18%. What’s more, according to this data which was collected from the UK’s major feed compounders, the greatest decrease took place during 2016, showing that the movement to limit antibiotics in pig farming is gaining momentum.
John FitzGerald is from Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) which led the research. He said: “This data shows there is a clear drive to use antibiotics more responsibly and to work alongside the human medical community in reducing, refining and replacing use of antibiotics globally, as well as building on the successful 10 percent reduction in UK farm animal use in 2015.”
These figures were welcomed by The Pig Veterinary Society, who collaborate with pig farmers in the reduced use of antibiotics.
“We cannot emphasise enough the importance of veterinary expertise and advice in assessing the disease risks and selecting suitable control options.” said the organisation’s president, Susanna Williamson.
“These need to be tailor-made to suit each individual farm and the effects monitored to ensure that initiatives to reduce antibiotic treatment also promote good pig health and welfare.”
Antibiotics are routinely prescribed in livestock farming as a preventative measure against bacteria-related illnesses. In pigs, this can include anthrax, which will often be covered under the “disease” section of a livestock policy, alongside other illnesses such as swine fever and foot and mouth. However, just like humans, animals can become resistant to antibiotics.
Paul Toplis of the Agricultural Industries Confederation claims the use of zinc oxide in pig feed seems to be allowing for a reduction in antibiotics by protecting the animal’s gut from E. coli bacteria.
“We are encouraged to see the rate of reduction in 2016, and this reflects the work between vets and farmers to make some courageous changes.” He said. He was, however, wary of the implications relating to the animals’ interests in light of this shift,
“Reducing reliance on antibiotics to treat and prevent disease spread could pose significant welfare challenges if not done with the right levels of care and skill.” He added.