UK pig industry antibiotic use plateaus as dysentery challenges herd health

The latest antibiotic usage figures for the UK pig industry show that levels remain unchanged last year, despite significant disease challenges.

According to data collected using the electronic medicine book (eMB), antibiotic use in 2019 held at 110 mg/PCU.

The unit mg/PCU is a unit of measurement developed by the European Medicines Agency to monitor antibiotic use and sales across Europe, which has also been adopted by the UK in its national reports.

PCU refers to the ‘Population Correction Unit’ and takes into account the animal population as well as the estimated weight of each particular animal at the time of treatment with antibiotics.

The data represent 95% of pigs slaughtered in the UK and equals usage in 2018, having fallen 60% in the three years prior.

Significantly, the use of highest-priority critically-important antibiotics (HP-CIAs) has seen a further decrease, down from 0.06 mg/PCU in 2018 to at 0.04 mg/PCU last year. While the use of Colistin represents only 0.002 mg/PCU, down from 0.004 mg/PCU.

AHDB’s acting head of Animal Health & Welfare, Dr. Mandy Nevel, said: “The latest antibiotic usage data demonstrate the sustained efforts that pig producers and their vets are making to use antibiotics responsibly, despite challenges from disease.

The holding pattern we are seeing at the moment is almost certainly due to a spike of swine dysentery cases in 2019.

“Swine dysentery is a bacterial disease and, while there are a number of actions that can prevent disease spread, treatment with antibiotics is sometimes both responsible and necessary to safeguard animal health and welfare.

“It is disappointing that this may have prevented further reduction in our antibiotic use last year. However, it is right that we put animal health and welfare first and, having discussed the results with the Pig Veterinary Society (PVS) and the wider industry, we can confirm that the consensus is the industry took the responsible approach and treated animals where necessary.”

Richard Pearson, PVS senior vice-president said: “AHDB’s eMB continues to be a hugely important resource, allowing us to review antibiotic usage at a farm and national level.

Significant progress with antibiotic reduction has been made in the past few years and, as we achieve much lower levels of use, fluctuations in disease challenges can appear more dramatic in terms of the effect on usage.

“This is what we have seen in 2019, with significant swine dysentery challenges on some farms resulting in the need to treat pigs to protect their health and welfare.

“Our experiences during the past year highlight the importance of antibiotics and the continued drive for good stewardship.

“Pig vets and farmers remain committed to this, and confident that last year’s swine dysentery challenges can be overcome to achieve further progress with both healthy pigs and antibiotic reduction in the next few years.”

Dr. Nevel continued: “’Despite three years of significant reductions, we will not be complacent about progress. We and the industry will continue to do everything we can to improve the health of pigs and minimise the need to administer antibiotic treatments.”