Although Danish pig producers currently use less zinc in feed than the EU maximum limit, the industry is looking at further reducing levels of the trace element added to feed.
According to SEGES, the Danish Pig Research Centre, it is important that the rest of the EU should follow a similar path.
Zinc is often incorporated into pig feed to encourage growth and appetite.
Outbreaks of diarrhoea at weaning can have fatal consequences for piglets. The addition of zinc to feed has provided an effective alternative to antibiotics, in both conventional and organic pig production.
Claus Fertin, director of SEGES, said: ”Around 70 per cent of the total zinc used is as a low level additive in all feed. This, therefore, is the right place to start. Last year, we informed the European Food Agency that Denmark sees an opportunity to reduce the amount of added zinc in finished pig feed.
“Consequently, we are now launching a larger trial and we expect the results to be available next year. This will enable the authorities, both in Denmark and other countries, to have a much better basis on which to make a decision. It is, of course, important that the regulations are applied similarly throughout Europe.”
In 2003, the maximum EU permitted level of zinc in pig feed was reduced from 250 mg/kg to 150 mg/kg, a drop of 40 per cent. Today, about 85 per cent of the maximum permitted amount is used in Denmark.
The new trial will also determine whether the amount of zinc can be reduced from the maximum of 150 mg/kg feed to 70 mg/kg feed without compromising the pigs’ well-being and growth.
A recent report prepared for the Environmental Protection Agency by Aarhus University, Denmark, made clear increasing quantities of zinc and copper have been observed in the soil caused by slurry from pig farming.
The report concludes that, in the short-term, this does not present a major environmental issue, but in the longer-term, the application of zinc and copper through slurry should be reduced.
Mr Fertin said: ”This issue has been discussed within the EU for a number of years, and it is obviously appropriate that we remain on top of the situation and do not contribute to the build-up of problem levels in farm land. “