Proposed EU legislation that aims to further restrict antibiotic use in livestock may have crippling consequences for pigs and pig producers, an animal health expert has warned.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have backed proposals that would ban collective and prophylactic antibiotic treatment of pigs in an effort to limit antimicrobial resistance in humans and animals.
But in an article in Pig Progress, veterinarian David Burch, past president of the UK’s Pig Veterinary Society, said the move would be impractical for pig farmers and potentially lead to greater risk of infection on pig units.
Under the plans, MEPs want to limit the prophylactic use of antimicrobials (which involves using them as a preventive measure even when there are no clinical signs of infection) and instead make sure they are only used on single animals when fully justified by a veterinarian.
‘Naive and impractical’
However, Burch said most producers recognized antibiotics should not be used to improve performance or compensate for poor animal husbandry, and limiting the way they were used would not address the issues they faced in effective herd-health management.
“When you have 200 weaned pigs each week, you are not sure which animals are carrying Streptococcus suis and are likely to break with septicaemia, meningitis, infectious arthritis, pericarditis and potentially die,” he said.
“To limit prevention to individual animals is naive and impractical, unless you wish to return to owning a single pig in a sty at the bottom of the garden.”
Similarly, plans to restrict metaphylactic antibiotic use (where a group of animals is treated when one shows signs of infection) to cases where animals are clinically ill or have a high risk of contamination were equally short-sighted, Burch said.
‘No understanding of disease spread’
“This may be fine when one is keeping a single animal in a pen such as a calf but normally pigs are kept in pens of 20, in rooms of 200 and in houses, potentially of 2,500 plus. So which individual animals in the pen am I going to give metaphylactic treatment to – they all need it.
“Nobody wants to treat houses of pigs individually when they are breaking down with pneumonia or swine dysentery. The infection is circulating in the house and can break out anywhere.”
As part of the solution, MEPs have suggested that farmers should rear genetically diverse stock in lower densities and to isolate sick animals to limit the risk of disease spread. But Burch said this showed little understanding of how infectious diseases spread.
“Genetic diversity and density… plays no relation to the spread of common infections when there is a common air space or common dunging area. Usually, we already use hospital pens for the very sick.
Furthermore, Burch questions the relationship between antibiotic use in farm animals and resistance in humans. In a recent report by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, animals were associated with less than 1% of deaths due to resistant human infections.
“Animal health use is not associated with other human last-resort antibiotics carbapenem, tigecycline or fosfomycin resistance in the EU, or multi-resistant tuberculosis in man,” he added.