UK pig industry posts further reductions in antibiotic use

New figures show the amount of antibiotic prescribed to treat pigs on UK farms in 2020 fell by 5%, bringing the total reduction since 2015 to 62%.

This was despite disease outbreaks and challenges from disruption to pig flow during the pandemic that meant pigs spent more time on farm than usual.

According to data collected using the electronic medicine book (eMB), antibiotic use in 2020 reduced to 105 mg/PCU, compared with 110 mg/PCU in 2019 and 278 mg/PCU in 2015.

The data represents more than 95% of pigs slaughtered in the UK and continues the downward trend since recording started, although challenges with swine dysentery in 2019 and early 2020 temporarily halted progress.

The overall result is close to the target of 99 mg/PCU set by the UK pig industry.

Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board (AHDB) sector strategy director for Pork, Angela Christison, said that in the context of a difficult year, achieving further reductions was a good result.

She said:

The industry understands how important responsible antibiotic use is and that is why there are tough targets and we work together towards them.

“The sector has delivered sustained reductions since recording began via eMB in 2015.

“This continued improvement, despite disruption to pig flow during the pandemic, is a credit to collaboration between producers, vets and the industry as a whole.”

Use of HP-CIAs

Use of highest priority critically important antibiotics (HP-CIAs) remains at a very low level, although a slight increase from 0.04 mg/PCU to 0.05 mg/PCU has been recorded in 2020.

No colistin use has been reported in 2020.

HP-CIAs, as categorised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA), are the most important for human medical health and reductions in their use has been a focus for all UK farm animal sectors since stewardship efforts have stepped up.

Dr. Mandy Nevel, AHDB’s Head of Animal Health and Welfare, said: “The EMA advice, which Pig Veterinary Society guidance supports, is that veterinary surgeons should prescribe a lower priority alternative to HP-CIAs unless there is no other option.

This could explain why, despite the reducing trend overall, we are seeing an increase in use in some lower priority antibiotics such as neomycin.

“Alternatively, these could be short term adjustments as the industry accommodates the phasing out of therapeutic zinc oxide, which treats post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets.

“Either way, while the proportion of these antibiotics being used remains low, as does resistance reported through government surveillance, we must continue to monitor these trends and work to understand the reasons for changes in their use.”