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UK pig industry halves antibiotic usage in two years

Industry leaders, including the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon Forum (NIPBF),  have welcomed latest figures which show the pig industry reduced antibiotic usage throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland by 28 per cent in 2017, bringing the total reduction in two years to more than 50 per cent.

According to the latest data taken from the electronic medicine book (eMB), which represents 87 per cent of pigs slaughtered in the UK, antibiotic usage on pig farms dropped from 183 mg/PCU to 131 mg/PCU within 12 months.

The 2017 reduction means the pig industry has more than halved its antibiotic usage within the last two years – with the latest figure building on a 34 per cent cut in usage between 2015 and 2016.

The news has been welcomed by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) which has worked closely with the Northern Ireland Pork and Bacon Forum, National Pig Association (NPA), the British Pig Association (BPA), Pig Veterinary Society (PVS), meat levy bodies Quality Meat Scotland (QMS) and Hybu Cig Cymru – Meat Promotion Wales (HCC), as well as the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) to help cut the use of antibiotics.

It comes just seven months after targets were announced by the Targets Task Force, set up by RUMA, to reduce antibiotic usage in the pig industry by over 60 per cent between 2015 and 2020.

AHDB’s Senior Veterinary Manager Mandy Nevel said: “This is a great industry effort with all parties throughout Great Britain and Northern Ireland fully engaged and determined to demonstrate responsible use of antibiotics in pigs. We must keep up the momentum to reduce use further in order to achieve our target of 99 mg/PCU by 2020.”

Developed by AHDB Pork and the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), the electronic medicine book is available to all UK producers and is supported by the Northern Ireland, Scottish and Welsh levy bodies.

It provides an electronic version of the paper medicines book to record and quantify usage so producers can review and optimise their on-farm antibiotic use. Since October last year, it became a Red Tractor requirement that quarterly antibiotic data are entered into eMB.

Deirdre McIvor, Chief Executive of NI Pork and Bacon Forum comments:  “This is fantastic news for the pig industry in Northern Ireland, having been actively involved since its inception – we very much welcome the 28 per cent reduction in 2017, after the previous 34 per cent cut in usage in previous years.   The reduction is testament to our producers who drive incredibly high standards, both here in Northern Ireland, and in Great Britain. The pig industry is now leading the way within livestock production with up-to-date figures on actual usage of antibiotics, allowing for realistic reduction targets.  The technology demonstrates with complete transparency the progress that is being made – it should inspire confidence across the sector and underpin the quality credentials of Assured Origin pork.”

Gwyn Jones, chairman of RUMA, concluded: “This is great news for the pig industry and a testament to the persistence and courage of pig producers and their veterinary surgeons in implementing sustainable reductions. Sector organisations should also be recognised for the tremendous leadership and support they have shown over the past three years.

“These latest results prove that the targets the pig sector set itself are both challenging and proportionate. Each year will be progressively harder to achieve and for this reason our foot must stay firmly on the pedal.

“The results also show us the importance of data. Small datasets are interesting but can be misleading. In our complex supply chains, we need to shine a light on all areas and can only do that if we can see the whole picture.

“The good news is that as more usage records are logged through the change in Red Tractor rules, so we are seeing engagement with the issue increase and reductions continuing to happen.”