5 April 2002

GPban could cost dear

By Hannah Velten

REMOVING antibiotic growth enhancers will reduce animal performance and increase production costs, unless effective medicinal alternatives are found or husbandry changes implemented in the next 3-4 years.

New EU Commission food safety proposals call for the four authorised antibiotic feed additives, used as growth promoters for fattening cattle, pigs and poultry, to be phased out by Jan 2006 (News, March 28). They are monensin sodium, salinomycin sodium, avilamycin and flavophospholipol – which are not currently used in human medicine.

Independent pig nutritionist Caroline Bevan says there is no scientific basis for the ban. "There is no proof, it is purely public opinion that is shaping regulations. The Third World and US do not have concerns about use of growth promoters – the EU is standing out further on a limb."

They are widely used within the national pig herd to enhance performance, explains Mrs Bevan. "No upsurge in disease will be seen when they are removed as they have no theraputic properties. But herd performance will fall in terms of feed conversion ratio and growth rates. Pigs will take longer to reach slaughter weights, giving another financial blow to the industry."

Barley beef producers use antibiotics as digestive enhancers to slow the rate of fermentation in the rumen, explains independent beef consultant, David Allen. "They improve performance, reduce the risk of acidosis and cut cattle methane emissions by 10-30%.

"Without these antibiotics, producers will have to include more forage in the ration to slow the rumen. However, buyers will complain that meat does not have the marble fat cover associated with intensive feeding. Yeast inclusion could be another alternative, but products have produced inconsistent results so far ," explains Dr Allen.

When asked about alternative feed additives to replace antibiotics in pig production, Mrs Bevan is less committal. "There are a plethora of alternatives on the market, each one claiming to be the solution.

"Producers must work out which age range of pigs will be most affected when antibiotics are removed and what the particular problem is. Then try different alternatives to see which works on the unit – every herd has its own situation and set of circumstances," she advises.

Similar advice is given by Peter Rudman, executive of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA). "The industry has been given plenty of time to adjust and adapt to the removal of antibiotic feed additives.

"RUMA guidelines advise discussion with the vet and feed supplier to identify possible alternatives. These will not just be medicinal, but more importantly, changes in management and husbandry," explains Mr Rudman.

However, the search for alternative feed additives could be hampered by further EU food safety proposals. These will tighten product authorisation on all feed additives, including silage preservatives, minerals and probiotics.

To demonstrate a products efficacy and safety to the EU Food Safety Authority will involve horrendous costs, says Jim Reed, chief executive of the UK Agricultural Supply Trade Association (UKASTA).

"The ruling will impact on the wider industry. Although many established feed additives are useful and safe, the cost of trials for product re-authorisation could be so great that some will disappear from the shelves. The rules are also bound to limit the number of new products appearing on the market," he adds.

"Not only will there be less choice for producers, which could impact on production efficiency, but it will also mean manufacturers having to charge higher prices for authorised additives." &#42

GROWTH PROMOTER BAN

Probably reduce performance.

Time to research alternatives.

Fewer feed additives?