Weaner pigs © Tim Scrivener© Tim Scrivener

Plans to ban therapeutic zinc oxide in pig feed could jeopardise animal welfare and push up costs if they are passed by the European Medicines Authority (EMA) next year, producer organisations have warned.

Using high-purity zinc oxide to prevent post weaning diarrhoea has been commonplace since 1994.

Losing it will cost farms on health, welfare, finance and production grounds, say industry experts. They have been left dumbfounded by the EMA’s move to ban the medicine on the grounds it represents a hazard to the environment.

See also: Possible zinc oxide ban a massive blow to pig industry

The move could also jeopardise efforts to reduce antimicrobial use, with Colistin – a World Health Organization “drug of last resort” – being touted as one of the prime substitutes for zinc oxide. 

Evidence

“We would like to see the evidence to support the announcement,” said Zoe Davies, chief executive of the National Pig Association (NPA), which has outlined its concerns to the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

The NPA maintained there was “insufficient evidence” on zinc oxide contributing to antimicrobial resistance (as a co-selector) and that “in all previous assessments the EMA has found the benefits of its effective use outweigh the environmental risks”.

Health benefits

Zinc oxide up to 3.1kg/t in creep diets has been hailed as a hugely successful medicine that has dramatically reduced growth checks, illness and hygiene issues in month-old pigs, animal health consultant Dave Burch told Farmers Weekly.

Dr Burch said: “To lose it will cause several problems, ranging from minor to severe, depending on the farm and possibly the season of the year.”

Without zinc, he said, farms may have to delay weaning by two weeks, which would require 50% more farrowing accommodation and cost a 450-sow unit £100,000 in extra sow places.

AHDB Pork’s Nigel Penlington said concerns about the potential danger of zinc to soil appeared to be based on a “historical perception”. Crop nutrient uptakes were now better understood and zinc was only used therapeutically in a narrow window of the pig’s life, he said.