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Producing pigs without antibiotics: How to do it?

High standards of biosecurity and hygiene are amongst the most important measures needed to achieve pig production that is free from antibiotics use.

In late 2015, Australian research zoomed in on strategies that can help to reduce the usage of antibiotics as far as possible. The researchers were associated with Sunpork Farms and the Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, Australia. Their outcomes were published in Animal Production Science.

Increased disease and welfare problems

The authors state that they did not intend to argue the science or their opinion on the reasons behind the desire to reduce antibiotics. They did say, however, that banning the use of antimicrobials in some countries led to increased disease and welfare problems, so that is why it would be good to know 'under what conditions pigs can be produced without the use of antimicrobials'.

The authors state that they dived into published experimental challenge trials, field studies and risk factor analyses. "Disease prevention practices were examined - pathogen survival and transmission studies, vaccine and disinfectant efficacy studies and nutrition trials."

They added, "From these studies we collated the important practices that manage or prevent disease and improve pig health. We also reviewed new diagnostic assays and technologies to better monitor the pig and its environment at the herd level."

Known and understood for long

Many strategies are known and understood for a long time, the authors wrote. Apart from the application of high standards of biosecurity and hygiene to create the conditions for reduction of antimicrobial use, they sum up a range of other factors, important for preventing disease:

• Eradication or elimination of pathogens;
• Minimising the mixing of pigs;
• Cleaning and disinfection of pens and sheds;
• Ventilation to improve air quality;
• Reducing stocking density; and
• Eliminating potential vectors of disease.

The researchers also point to health improving measures like vaccination and improved consistency of nutrition.

Diagnostic and vaccination tool development

In order to achieve antibiotic-free production, the scientists state that several technologies need further developing. They wrote, "The development of diagnostic technologies that correlate with disease and production will enable the detection of potential disease problems at the individual or herd level before disease outbreaks occur and before antimicrobials are needed."

They added, "The development of vaccination technologies for prevention of disease and diagnostic technologies that can be used on-farm to predict disease outbreaks are integral to safely moving towards antimicrobial-free pork."

They concluded, "Any move to antimicrobial-free production requires an acknowledgement that pig production costs may increase and that many pig production practices must change. Such changes must also ensure that animal welfare and food safety and quality standards are maintained or improved, and that reliable markets for the product are found."

The research paper was written by B.L. Gleeson, Sunpork Farms, Queensland, Australia and A.M. Collins, Elizabeth Macarthur Agricultural Institute, New South Wales, Australia.

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