The ZAP programme to control salmonella in pigs will be tightened up in June next year, the British Pig Executive has announced.

Launched five years ago by DEFRA, the programme has already lowered infection levels, but if targets for reducing food safety risks are to be met, it must be stepped up.

BPEX said there will be changes in the basis on which holdings are assigned to ZAP Levels 1, 2 and 3.

Level 1 will now apply where less than 50% of sample tests are positive, ZAP level 2 for between 50% and 75%, and ZAP Level 3 75% and over.

The length of time in which holdings can remain at ZAP Levels 2 and 3 has also been reduced by one month. 

They will be required to activate an appropriate action plan to control salmonella within six months.

Reducing salmonella levels remains a key target and BPEX will continue to provide technical help and research to assist producers to reduce salmonella levels.

The last pig abattoir survey of salmonella levels was carried out in 1999/2000, and found 23% of samples were positive.

But the withdrawal of anti-microbial growth promoters may contribute to an increase in the salmonella challenge.

Tests have shown that acidification of pig feed using EU approved non-antibiotic growth promoters can enhance stomach acidity, reducing salmonella infection.

Unlike many EU pig units, straw based solid floor units common in the UK can increase microbial intake and pose an additional challenge.

DEFRA vets say improved hygiene and bio-security can control salmonella on farms and safeguards are worth the extra cost.