Will the swine industry be antibiotic-free by 2020? According to Terry Coffey, Murphy-Brown LLC., the industry must first understand how to balance the health and wellbeing of our animals in ways that parallel consumer demands. Coffey says about 90 to 98 percent of the total antibiotic grams used are for therapeutic purposes and major diseases that drive antibiotic use, such as porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) and swine influenza.  Antimicrobial growth promoters (AGPs) for improved weight gain and feed efficiency only make up about 2 to 10 percent of the total use of antibiotics.

 “If we go antibiotic-free, we are still faced with these diseases,” says Coffey, who spoke at Alltech’s 29th Annual International Symposium. “We need to find technological advances to minimize gut challenges and these key drivers to using antibiotics.”

Coffey’s viewpoint by swine industry leaders from across North America. Breeding pigs for disease resistance, eliminating mycotoxins to enhance feed efficiency, updating biosecurity measures and housing management, practicing good stockmanship and coordinating the timing of vaccinations to improve immune response were practices debated by attendees.

According to Mark Fitzsimmons, with MAF Veterinary Services, PRRS is a major reason for the continued use of AGPs in the industry. After 25 years of dealing with the disease, there is still a need to retain the therapeutic use of antibiotics. However, Fitzsimmons feels the industry also needs to reduce its dependence on growth-promoting antibiotics and learn how to more efficiently manage the health and nutrition of pigs. Fitzsimmons suggests looking at alternatives such as acidifiers, enzymes, and mannan oligosaccharides and the nutritional needs of health-challenged pigs.

“We continue to place pigs in situations where their current health status puts them ‘close to the edge’ all the time. Due to health changes, our ability to raise pigs efficiently has gone down sufficiently,” Fitzsimmons says. He notes that that industry needs more knowledge about how to feed pigs when they get sick, though many researchers, veterinarians and animal health companies on working on strategies in this area.“

Thomas Gillespie, Rensselaer Swine Services, agrees that the industry, in general, needs to consider the impact of good gut health. While antibiotic usage has already changed over the years, veterinarians should also consider what can be or should be used to promote outstanding growth during all health statuses.

Gillespie believes the industry should examine incorporating more eubiotics (feed additives such as organic acids, essential oils and probiotics), improve stocking density and ventilation and provide more training for employees to deal with health challenges such as PRRS, circovirus, ileitis and Mycoplasma hyopneumonia.

“We are finding a change in attitude in practioners,” Gillespie says. “For example, the intestinal tract is one of the largest organs in the body and we have not learned how to monitor it. I stopped using AGPs and started using some alternatives, such as essential oils. First, we diagnose, and then we try to use those tools to treat specific health issues.”

Paul Groenewegen, technical manager at Alltech Canada, provided a list of questions industry leaders should consider. He believes the answers will contribute to the future of growth promotion in North America:

  • Genetic improvement and selection: Has genetic improvement or selection been under non-AGP production scenarios? Can it be in the future? Can we genetically select for disease-tolerant pigs?
  • Higher production levels: Can we manage pigs under current conditions without AGPs? Are we capable of managing to higher production levels? If so, why aren’t we doing it now?
  • Housing design: How will ventilation, feeder design, space and group size recommendations change in the future?
  • Employee management: Are we providing the right training? Do we need more or less? Is our current employee base sufficient for 2020?
  • Caloric conversion and water quality: Can we influence caloric conversion through feeding programs? Are we paying enough attention to the quality, consumption and availability of water? How do we extract more nutrients from our feedstuffs?
  • Vaccination programs: Can we maintain health status in large production systems? How can genetic selection help with health status and disease resistance?

Groenewegen says it’s a process that involves studying the immune status of the pigs and looking at very specific programs in the nursery to drive feed intake early on. And then, those animals need to be protected all the way through the production process.

He says industry researchers will need to understand and evaluate the entire production process if we are going to consider taking antibiotics out of the system.

Editor’s Note: Ann Kopecky is the North America Field PR Manager for Alltech. She lives in Brookings, South Dakota.