Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Health scheme could further reduce antibiotics in pig production

February 1, 2019 by  
Filed under Livestock

A national pig health improvement scheme could help reduce the prevalence of endemic disease on UK farms and further reduce the need for antibiotics, suggests a Nuffield report.

Antibiotics have masked an array of disease challenges on UK pig farms and this has resulted in a lack of focus towards effective disease prevention, says the study by Georgina Crayford, senior policy advisor at the National Pig Association.

Greater resource must be dedicated to pig health improvement initiatives, the report suggests. Pig management and hygiene practices that result in reduced transmission of disease are well-established but not well implemented in the UK.

For her report, Dr Crayford examined antibiotic usage in pig production from seven countries around the world – as well as exploring ways that the sector could improve infection prevention in pig herds.

Array of challenges

“For decades, antibiotics have masked an array of disease challenges on UK pig farms,” she said. “This has resulted in a lack of focus and resource being directed towards effective disease prevention.”

The aim should not be to achieve zero use of antibiotics in pig production, or simply to reduce the use of antibiotics, said Dr Crayford. Instead, the focus should be on reducing the need for and optimising the use of antibiotics.

The report recommends that pig farmers are encouraged to implement the necessary practices for improved infection prevention through participatory, farmer-led initiatives and behavioural nudge techniques.

Dr Crayford added: “Framing the problem in a different, more personal way can help farmers to understand why tackling antibiotic resistance should be made a priority.”

Participatory and farmer-led discussions, as opposed to a top-down approach, have proven to be a successful method of bringing about behaviour change, as they provide farmers with an opportunity to learn from each other and hold each other to account.

Endemic disease

Pig producers should also evaluate the cost of antibiotic medication and the impact of long-term endemic disease on the bottom line, said Dr Crayford.

Farmers should consider whether their business would continue to be viable if certain diseases became untreatable due to antibiotic resistance, or if certain antibiotic products were no longer permitted to be used in livestock.

The Nuffield report was sponsored by AHDB Pork. The farmer-funded body said its strategic farm initiative was a good example of how the farmer-led approach to disease prevention is beginning to be implemented in the English pig sector. 

Such initiatives bring farmers together, providing them with a forum to share experiences, learn from each other and develop action plans to improve productivity.

The development of AHDB’s electronic medicine book (eMB) for recording antibiotic use in the pig industry had also been hugely valuable. The pig industry had, in fact, already reduced its antibiotic usage by over half in the last two years.

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