EU pig sector has up to five years to phase out zinc oxide in piglet feed

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

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© istock

Related tags: Zinc oxide, European union, United kingdom

The EU Commission has confirmed the EU-wide ban on the use of zinc oxide at medicinal levels in piglet feed, but member states have up to five years to phase it out.

The Standing Committee on Veterinary Medicinal Products in Brussels on Monday (19 June) backed a European Medicines Agency (EMA) decision from December 2016 to withdraw all marketing authorizations for veterinary medicines containing zinc oxide.

The EMA concluded then that the benefits of zinc oxide (ZnO) for the prevention of diarrhea in pigs do not outweigh the risks for the environment. 

The five-year phase out period is a better result than the immediate withdrawal some parties were demanding, noted the UK’s National Pig Association (NPA). 

However, it falls well short of the 10-year transition period called for by that group and other industry bodies.

The NPA, as part of an alliance with the Pig Veterinary Society, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and AHDB Pork, has been lobbying hard at UK and EU level to fight the proposed ban on ZnO.

NPA chief executive, Zoe Davies, said the UK pig sector would now lobby for the maximum five-year transition in the UK, and said it was hopeful of UK government backing on that. 

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The NPA, as part of an alliance with the Pig Veterinary Society, the Agricultural Industries Confederation (AIC) and AHDB Pork, has been lobbying hard at UK and EU level to fight the proposed ban.

However, she said the NPA would also look into whether the decision to leave the EU has any implications for how the UK handles the decision.

"I want to explore whether we could apply to transfer the current EU license to the UK, as five years will take us past the date we expect to leave the EU. 

"If we were to consider going it alone, we would obviously need to look at the implications for trade with the EU.”

She said the industry must now use the transition period, if zinc does go in the UK, to ensure, the health and welfare of pigs are not compromised by the decision: “We are concerned about the timing – losing zinc could put a major spanner in the works as the industry collectively seeks to reduce antibiotic usage on farms.”

In the EU, zinc oxide is used to prevent and control post-weaning diarrhea (PWD) and bowel edema disease in young pigs. An estimated 70-90% of starter diets in the UK contain zinc oxide at therapeutic levels. 

Tim Goossens, business development manager at feed additive supplier, Nutriad, sees a market opportunity in relation to the ZnO decision. Last December, he said the move was an example of how consumer concerns and regulatory controls continue to make the traditional tools to combat bacterial diseases in animal production less available. He added functional feed additives that can be shown to improve intestinal health are likely to receive more attention as a result.

“It is encouraging that some farms are already starting to experiment with removing or reducing zinc levels from piglet diets but already we are seeing this can have unintended consequences,” ​added Davies.

Risk of ZnO run-off

Danish research on the risk of ZnO run-off triggered the EMA proposal on marketing authorizations for ZnO medical products, a spokesperson for the EMA told us at the end of last year.

“A study in Denmark​ showed that the use of pig slurry on soils has led to a significant increase in soil concentrations of zinc, especially in the latest period monitored (1998 to 2014).

“The authors concluded that the current use of zinc in pig production in Denmark may lead to leaching of zinc from fields fertilized with pig slurry into the water compartments, in concentrations that may pose a risk to aquatic species,” ​she explained.

Related topics: Regulation

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