Serving the Farming Industry across East Anglia for 35 Years
Pig and poultry producers are at the forefront of efforts to reduce antibiotics in UK livestock production, confirm the latest figures. UK livestock sectors... Producers make great strides in reducing antibiotics usage

Pig and poultry producers are at the forefront of efforts to reduce antibiotics in UK livestock production, confirm the latest figures.

UK livestock sectors continue to make positive progress towards  antibiotic use targets for the years 2021-2024 – with some sectors reaching goals early, according to the RUMA Targets Task Force report.

Pig producers continued to prioritise herd health and welfare during 2022 – the latest year for which figures are available, says the independent industry body, reducing antibiotics usage by 20% to 72mg/kg of bodyweight at the time of treatment.

The continuing low use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics fell again to 0.01mg/kg PCU with no use of colistin – further demonstrating the ongoing responsible approach to the health of pigs in the country.

Pigs and poultry

The 2022 data shows the pig sector has reduced antibiotic use by 74% since 2015, taking the sector below the RUMA Targets Task Force 2 target. Meeting the target early reflects the extended use of zinc oxide manufactured before its withdrawal.

“The supply of zinc oxide is close to depletion and it is anticipated that some producers will be unable to find a solution for post-weaning diarrhoea that works for their unit with the current tools available,” said RUMA.

“These producers are likely to be compelled to manage the health and welfare of their pigs post weaning through the use of antibiotics to treat clinical disease, as has been the case in some EU countries that have already lost the use of zinc oxide.”

Poultry producers have also made strong progress. As with pigs, the sector remains below antibiotic target usage levels: broiler chickens are at 14.05mg under the 25mg target, with turkeys 35.36mg under the 50mg target.

“Any fluctuations demonstrate the sector’s treatment in real time, only using antibiotics when necessary,” said RUMA. It added: “Of particular note, no fluroquinolones were used in chicken meat production in 2022.”

Challenging time

The reductions come at a challenging time for both sectors.

Pig production costs remain high and significant debt needs repaying before infrastructure investments can be made on many farms. UK pig numbers have contracted by about 25% over the past two years – leaving the smallest sow herd for some time.

For poultry producers, rising production costs, ongoing labour shortages, the impacts of avian influenza and burdensome EU-UK trade barriers, mean British poultry businesses are being pushed to capacity.

RUMA chairman Catherine McLaughlin said: “UK agriculture is proud of its work to date on tackling antimicrobial resistance and, as we look ahead to the future, we will naturally start to see a shift in focus from reduction, to maintenance of the targets.

“It is important to highlight that zero use of antibiotics, be that across animal or human health, is neither viable nor responsible. People and animals do get sick at times, even with the best health care and preventive plans in place.

“Antibiotics remain a key medicine in the treatment toolbox to help people and animals recover. In those situations, antibiotics are rightfully needed and should be delivered under the mantra of ‘as little as possible, as much as necessary’.”