National Pig Association warns potential zinc oxide medicine ban could affect animal health

Pigs at Blythburgh Free Range Pork. Picture: James Bass

Pigs at Blythburgh Free Range Pork. Picture: James Bass - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2016

Pig industry leaders warned of a major potential blow to their sector after EU veterinary experts recommended a ban on the use of zinc oxide medicines in animal feed.

The European Medicines Agency's Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) discussed concerns that zinc oxide products, widely used to prevent post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets, posed a 'potential risk to the environment and increase of prevalence of antibiotic resistant bacteria'.

The committee concluded that 'overall... the benefits of zinc oxide for the prevention of diarrhoea in pigs do not outweigh the risks for the environment' and recommended the withdrawal of existing marketing authorisations and refusal to grant new ones.

The National Pig Association (NPA) warned that if the European Commission accepts the recommendations, it could affect animal health and significantly hamper the pig sector's drive to reduce antibiotic usage.

NPA chief executive Zoe Davies said: 'We will fight this. We will be making our feelings known at UK and EU level and establishing, as a priority, what grounds we have to oppose a ban.


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'We know zinc oxide is an effective product and has significant benefits for animal health and welfare.

'We will be arguing very strongly that the negative impact on pig health and our drive to reduce antibiotic usage will outweigh any so-far-unproven risks.'

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The pig industry is an important agricultural sector for East Anglia, with more than 20pc of the UK's pig herd based in the region.

Suffolk producer Alastair Butler, of Blythburgh Free Range Pork, between Halesworth and Southwold, is also a board member for levy-payers' organisation AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) Pork.

He said: 'We use it (zinc oxide) to help the piglets' guts to adapt when they go through the process of moving from milk to solid food – it is being used responsibly and it is very successful.

'The quantities being used are pretty miniscule so there is not really any concern. If we were feeding it to finishing pigs or sows it would be different, but it is such a tiny amount being eaten.

'As an industry, we are trying to reduce our antibiotic use and this is not going to help. If it makes the pigs' guts healthier that is a good thing and we don't want to use antibiotics to do that.

'If it was removed it will have a significant negative impact on the health of weaned piglets across the whole industry – and there is no reason for it. This is being pushed through without any thought of the consequences for the pig industry. Pig farmers are very easy to talk to, and you have organisations like the NPA and AHDB Pork, but no-one was consulted.'

ABOUT ZINC OXIDE

Zinc oxide is added to animal feed for the management of post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets. The National Pig Association (NPA) said piglets often scour in the immediate post-weaning period due to physiological changes to their gut, the stress of weaning and coping with a new environment.

Post-weaning diarrhoea is associated with E.coli infections, which zinc is effective at controlling. Consequently, use of zinc oxide in piglet feed can result in lower use of antimicrobials, according to NPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford.

The Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP), made up of representatives of national authorities and agencies, including the UK's Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), acknowledged the benefits of zinc oxide for the prevention of diarrhoea.

But, by consensus, it concluded that, overall, the benefit-risk balance associated with zinc oxide was negative due to the risks to the environment. It considered use of these products leads to a significant increase in soil zinc concentrations to levels considered harmful for the environment.

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