If they were using zinc oxide to control post-weaning diarrhoea, pig producers in the European Union will soon have to start looking for alternatives. The European Commission has voted to phase out zinc oxide as a veterinary instrument in the entire union within 5 years.
The outcome of the commission does not come as a surprise, as the advice of the Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use (CVMP) to the commission had already been to ban the high-level use of zinc oxide.
Zinc oxide’s mode of action
Zinc can be applied at low dosages (around 150 ppm) to weaners as a nutritional component. Usage in high levels as zinc oxide (around 2,500 ppm) has been shown to be an effective strategy to prevent and control e.g. post-weaning diarrhoea problems.
The strategy is therefore widely used in various countries, the UK, Spain and Denmark being a few of them. The European Commission zoomed in on the effects of usage of zinc oxide at the request of the Netherlands and France.
Effects of zinc oxide on the environment
The application of zinc oxide is considered a key alternative to the reduction of antibiotics usage. The European Commission, however, pointed to zinc oxide having a serious impact on the environment as much of the substance gets excreted and ends up in fields when the manure is applied on the lands. From the side of the UK, this environmental impact is heavily contested.
Zinc oxide will have to be phased out in pig production in 5 years. Photo: iStock
In some studies, the use of zinc oxide has been associated with the occurrence of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as the resistant bacteria might carry zinc-resistance genes. In addition, certain antimicrobial effects are suspected, e.g. by the Netherlands Veterinary Medicines Institute (SDa). Again, these outcomes are also under debate.
Effect for the UK in the light of Brexit
Last week, the decision was made by the Standing Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products (CVMP) of the European Commission in Brussels, to withdraw the marketing authorisation for all veterinary products containing zinc oxide within 5 years.
For the United Kingdom, it is unclear what the outcome will be in practice, seeing that the country is in the process to secede from the European Union (Brexit). The 5-year period might be longer than it takes the country to step out of the union.