Concerns have been raised that a proposed ban on zinc oxide use in piglet feed would ‘go against’ everything the industry has been working towards to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
Speaking at this week’s NFU Council meeting, National Pig Association (NPA) chief executive Zoe Davies said she would ’fight’ the call from the European Medicines Agency’s Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) to withdraw the use of zinc oxide in food producing species due to its risk to the environment.
“If we did not have access to zinc oxide for use in piglet diets we would probably have to use more antibiotics,” Ms Davies said.
“The only other alternative is to use colistin but this should only ever be used as a last resort.”
Zinc oxide is currently added to piglet diets at ’medicinal levels’ in the first 14 days to help prevent post-weaning diarrhoea and control E.coli infection. Removal would have a ‘massive impact’ on the UK industry, she added.
But the CVMP concluded environmental damage from zinc oxide ’far outweighed’ its benefit to prevent diarrhoea due to an increase in soil zinc concentration levels.
It came as NFU national livestock board chairman Charles Sercombe said AMR could ’potentially be a bigger issue for the beef and lamb sector than Brexit’.
Mark White, chairman of the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) medicines sub committee backed the NPA saying he had ‘significant concerns’ about the ‘potential adverse effects on pig health and welfare’ if zinc oxide was banned for use in pig diets.
He said: “Increased disease following withdrawal is likely to have an adverse impact on the ability of vets to reduce antimicrobial use post-weaning.
“There would be a likely adverse impact on current initiatives to improve disease control and reduce antimicrobial use on pig farms and it is particularly unfortunate that the potential withdrawal could occur at a time that the pig industry is actively progressing its antimicrobial stewardship programme, which is supported by the Pig Veterinary Society.”
Environmental risks are ‘substantially different’ in the UK, and do not take into account pig husbandry systems and agricultural practices, he added.
The NPA and the PVS will be working alongside the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) to overturn the ban.