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Pig antibiotics face fresh EU ban threat

Pig farmers need to start lobbying hard if they want to keep the current range of antibiotics used on their stock.

Delegates at the Irish Pig Health Society conference in Mullingar were told that they need to convince the European Commission if they wanted to prevent some of the key medicines used to prevent routine sickness being banned over the coming years.

David Burch, a British expert on pig health, also encouraged the pig industry here to set up an alliance representing all interested parties, from farmers and vets through to supermarkets and doctors, similar to the ones that exist in Britain and Europe.

Banning the use of in-feed preventative antibiotics is among the moves being considered by EU regulators. An outright ban on the use of antibiotics that are crucial in the fight against MRSA in hospitals is also being considered.

In addition, measures such as banning vets from being able to dispense antibiotics and increased policing of the use of antimicrobials at farm level could be on the cards.

Mr Burch told the conference that the discouragement of the in-feed use of antibiotics in countries such as Denmark and Germany had led to a "flourishing market" in powders that were simply used to top-dress feed. This had led to huge variations in the dose rates to which pigs were being subjected.

"Antibiotic resistance is not a new issue and generally can be controlled by responsible use. It is often not as bad as painted by organic and vegetarian lobbyists," he said.

Mr Burch added that, if a herd was struggling with resistance issues, restocking with high healthy pigs requiring minimal use of antibiotics was an option.

"One cannot separate the science from politics, but it is hoped the EU will take practical steps to access the situation and not be pushed by individual member states or lobby groups into taking inappropriate action," Mr Burch said.

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