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Tail Biting and Antibiotics Head Pig Sector Health and Welfare Targets

22 July 2015

ANALYSIS - Tail biting among pigs and the use of antimicrobials and antibiotic resistance are key areas to be targeted by the Pig Health and Welfare Council this year.

The PHWC has called for more data and information from pig units that do not dock tails of piglets.

In its biennial report published this month, the council wants to discover what allows them to rear pigs with intact tails and gather more information on methods of livestock management that show low incidence of tail biting.

The council has also called for more information in cases where tail biting has occurred to encourage better methods of managing tail biting and to roll out to the industry a programme of best practice.

In a similar way the PHWC is also calling for more information on the use of antimicrobials in the treatment of illness among pigs.

The council’s report says it wants to establish a standardised format of antimicrobial usage data, which can be used by everyone across the whole of the UK pig production sector.

The council says that better data collection and record keeping are vital steps in measuring baseline antimicrobial use and letting people in the sector understand changes in practice.

The council is aiming to prepare a set of guidelines for vets this year on reviewing the use of antimicrobials and how to review their use.

The council said that the vet has an important role as an on-farm advisor and prescriber of medication and this makes them key figures in the development of on-farm use of antimicrobials.

While identifying and publishing advice on best practice, the council said that examples need to be drawn up to show where antimicrobials are not being used correctly or where their use is not being kept to a minimum.

It says that alternatives to antimicrobials need to be explored as well as alternative approaches to their use.

The council says that by gathering information from on-farm trials it intends to provide more information directly to the industry over this year.

“The (PHWC Antimicrobials Usage) subgroup has also recognised that alternative approaches to current methods need to be explored in more depth and so the group needs to engage research in key strategic areas,” the report says.

“There is an important need for more research into medication through water lines within the UK.

“Currently, there are few systems which are set up to use this technology and a lack of expertise in the field to medicate in this way.

“Another area for further investigation is the development of new or more effective diagnostic tests, which can provide quicker and/or more accurate results to vets and producers to enable them to effectively treat disease.

“Alternative treatments to antimicrobials, such as vaccines or neutraceuticals, were also posed as potential areas of interest to the PHWC.”

Over the last year, the PHWC has also been working on ways to ensure that any potential threat to the UK from Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea virus that has been virulent in the USA can be met head on.

The council said that this highly virulent PED poses a significant threat to the UK pig industry because of the high piglet mortality, of up to 100 per cent in some cases, seen in China, the USA, Canada and most recently the Ukraine.

“Although we have previously experienced PED within UK herds, an APHA study carried out in 2014 suggests that less than nine per cent (and possibly even lower numbers) of pigs have any circulating antibody titre,” the PHWC report says.

“This suggests that the UK herd has little to no protection against new emergent European strains or the highly virulent USA/Asia strains.”

Last summer, the PHWC disease surveillance subgroup developed a contingency plan for PED for the UK and the group is now continuing the work outlined by the contingency plan during 2015, providing pig producers with technical information, standard operating procedures and resources to help control the disease should an outbreak occur.

In the area of food safety, the PHWC has set out in its report plans to continue monitoring salmonella in slaughter pigs.

The monitoring is through the data gathered by the Food Standards’ Agency and this the council says will provide the necessary information to recommend changes in practice where necessary.

However, another pathogen that is causing concern is Hepatitis E and the council is commissioning research this year to find a method of detecting the virus and measuring live Hepatitis E in pork and pork products.

The council has set out a four point plan to look at the risk factors and ways to reduce the risk across the industry.

The strategy includes:

  1. Using trace back samples from a 2013 zoonoses to the farm and map the risk factors
  2. An on-farm study to consider the transmission route at farm level and why some pigs are viraemic at slaughter
  3. The identification of possible risk factors and interventions
  4. Development of a risk assessment tool starting in September 2015.

The aims and objectives laid out in the biennial report are all based on the PHWC’s vision set out in the 20:20 Pig Health and Welfare report of 2012, which aims to have an English pig herd where health and welfare are continually improving, which results in better pig performance, the production of safe and quality product, reduced environmental impact and increased sustainability.

The report concludes that “improved welfare can also improve the productivity of pigs, as well as differentiate them from overseas competition”.

It adds that continued surveillance of disease through the British pig health scheme can also give early warnings of increasing disease levels so that prompt responses can be introduced.

“Export opportunities continue to be based on the sustained effort by the English pig industry and have provided a higher market price when compared with our European counterparts,” the report says.

Further Reading

You can view the full report by clicking here.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris

Top image via Shutterstock



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