Nuffield scholar urges farmers to consider viability without antibiotics

A Nuffield scholar with a specialism in the pork industry has urged policymakers to encourage ‘optimisation’ of antibiotics rather than pushing for ‘zero use’.

The report compiled by Dr. Georgina Crayford, a senior policy advisor at the National Pig Association (NPA), details her findings on antibiotic use in pig production from seven countries around the world, as well as the UK.

Dr. Crayford also explores methods of engaging farmers and encouraging behavioural change.

Among the closing recommendations of the report, Dr. Crayford urges pig farmers to evaluate the cost of antibiotic medication and the impact of long-term endemic disease on the bottom line.

She also challenged the wider agricultural sector to consider whether their businesses 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.

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

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

Dr. Crayford explains, however, that the aim should not be to achieve zero use of antibiotics in pig production, or simply to reduce the use of antibiotics.

The focus should instead be on reducing the need for and optimising the use of antibiotics.

Behavioural change

Another key area highlighted in Dr. Crayford’s report is behaviour change. She recommends that pig farmers should be 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.

AHDB Pork’s Gilt Watch and strategic farm activities are examples of how the farmer-led approach, as recommended in Dr. Crayford’s report, is beginning to be implemented in the English pig sector.

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