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BLOG: UK to monitor antibiotic usage – a simpler model for the EU?

Several member states (MS) have already set up antibiotic usage monitoring systems on pig farms and the UK is about to start. Our Red Tractor Assurance Pig Scheme is introducing the requirement to monitor antimicrobial usage on an annual basis from 1st of October 2014.

The UK was one of the first to record annual sales of antimicrobials for veterinary use but it was not able to break it down by species use. As a result, a survey was carried out in the UK by BPEX to come up with a best estimate of the antimicrobial use in pigs. Collecting reliable data was quite difficult and different approaches were required for different products and production systems.

Vets could supply good data regarding injectable and soluble products supplied to their clients but feed compounders were more reliable regarding actual medicated-feed supplied on farm rather than vet prescription data. Home mixers also have their own records but estimating how much went into this category of producer was also quite difficult. The use of zinc oxide was not included, as it is not an antibiotic. BPEX and I produced an early spreadsheet tool to help farmers start monitoring their usage based on premix, soluble and injectable data.

We have extended this simple spreadsheet so that smaller farmers can more easily collect their annual usage data together, based on medicated feed information plus soluble products and injectable products and come out with an overall usage figure at the end. This will work for all categories of farms from breeder/finishers to finisher producers. See Octagon services.The amount of critical human drug use (fluoroquinolones and 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins) can easily be recorded also.

Just collating and quantifying the amount used on a farm is one thing but what does it mean, how many pigs have been treated etc? This is where for finisher producers additional data such as number of pigs produced, liveweight sold or deadweight produced is significant and a comparison with the estimated UK average pig production can be a guide to whether the farm is an average, higher than average or very high user (double average), where the farmer should probably consult his vet to see if he can reduce his use. This calculation is based on mg of antibiotic/kg liveweight or deadweight. It is not meant to be a target but twice the average usage seems to be a good point to start but there may be special circumstances present on the farm, like a break down in swine dysentery.

Some countries are critical of this approach and look at average daily doses, courses or treatment days but it was felt that this is just a start to encourage farmers to look at what they are doing and also possibly examine the costs, to see if they can make a saving without impairing production efficiency. In addition, it is much simpler to do and requires a relatively low level of input, which we felt was more important at this early stage. It also raises the question is it necessary to go much further bearing in mind the extra costs, especially when many MS are in financial difficulties. The critical human use drugs are not used in feed or drinking water in pigs but given by individual injection or oral doser. Setting targets is another issue but the UK appears to be a moderate user; possibly, we do not need to go down to Scandinavian extreme levels where they are now showing signs of welfare problems in pigs, such as increased mortality, depressed growth rate and increased enteric problems. Have they gone too far, it was never scientifically based?

With the new European Commission being formed it is considered highly likely that some form of antibiotic usage monitoring will be introduced at a farm level and this is likely to be compared with antimicrobial resistance monitoring, so that a meaningful, epidemiological review can be carried out. What these requirements will be is not determined yet, so we shall have to wait and see what comes out.

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