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14th February 2022

As EU Ban Deadline Looms, AB Neo Advocates for Holistic Strategy for Complex Zinc Removal - INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES

14 February 2022 - It was five years ago when European Union member states were asked to withdraw the authorisation of veterinary drugs which contain zinc oxide (ZnO). Starting in June 2022, the use of high doses of ZnO above those of the physiological requirement of the piglet will be banned in the European Union (EU).


In the past several months, various suppliers of alternative zinc-feeding strategies have reached out to Feedinfo’s INDUSTRY PERSPECTIVES to share their views and highlight the benefits of their technologies.


And with only a few months left until the implementation of the EU regulation, Simon Tibble, Technical Director at AB Neo (a division of AB Agri) talks to us about the AB Neo nutritional programme, but also why zinc removal isn’t an easy task due to the many different farm formats, and what can still be done by piglet producers between now and June.


Mr. Tibble, what are the ‘variables’ associated with zinc removal and why is each farm unique? Why is removal a complex process?

[Simon Tibble] The variables can include a mix of potential disease organisms on farm, the overall herd health status, piglet management (stocking density, water quality…), cleaning and disinfection programmes, vaccination programmes, weaning age (true weaning age and age spread of weaned pigs), how well creep feed is managed, antibiotic usage, and the herd’s genetic profile.

Every farm is different – be that buildings, production system, manpower, bio-security. Add to that differences in health status, genetics and vaccination protocols/antibiotic stance and every unit therefore needs individual recommendations.

Piglets have a physiological need for essential trace elements, which is present in many metabolic processes. Therapeutic levels of zinc is the ‘magic bullet’ used to control post-weaning diarrhoea that will no longer possible post-June 2022. With no direct replacement, a holistic approach is essential, where nutrition combines with management and vaccination programmes to ensure a successful solution.

Much has been said about the upcoming ban on the use of zinc oxide at medicinal levels in piglet feed, and various companies have approached us with their solutions and recommendations to follow holistic approaches. What’s AB Neo’s competitive advantage in this field of nutrition?

[Simon Tibble] From the initiation of this process AB Neo recognised that a holistic approach was needed, not solely because of the challenges mentioned earlier but also from a direct nutritional perspective. We needed to fully understand how the nutritional interventions from an early developmental stage of the piglet could influence gut microbiota and digestive maturation to help the piglet arrive at weaning in a stronger developmental state. For the last five years our in-depth research has been focused on understanding the interaction of functional nutrients and additives to support piglet maturation and development.

At customer level, what kind of improvements in terms of zinc oxide substitution are you seeing via application of the AB Neo nutritional programmes?

[Simon Tibble] Working with our customers and their vets, we have trialled over 250,000 weaners in a variety of production systems, covering indoor, outdoor and straw-based systems, intensive integrated operations and a range of genetics, weaning weights, feeding regimes and pen sizes. Our research has been consistently giving us similar growth rates, feed intake, feed conversion and final weights to zinc-based systems when a holistic approach is taken. We are constantly reviewing performance with customers to ensure this is maintained in a commercial environment. As the importance of the holistic approach becomes more apparent, then actual piglet and grower finisher performance can be seen to be improved.

Regarding the biggest concern – looseness – results are encouraging with most units (88%) reporting no or only mild looseness without zinc. Whilst this gives cautious optimism, health status is variable, and issues arise at any time. So, all farm personnel must remain vigilant in managing zinc removal.  For the remaining 12% of farms, more extensive changes in nutrition, management and vet input will be necessary.



Do you have case studies of customers you approached a few years/months ago and with whom you have now implemented the AB Neo nutritional programmes? What does the E. coli challenge look like today on these farms?

[Simon Tibble] Yes, where we have been working with customers over an extended period of time and been able to be involved in changes to management practices, water quality and working with the vets with regards to understanding better the health status of piglets and the importance of their vaccination programmes, we have seen improved performance results. The E. coli challenge is manageable if we can better control the stress factors that often lead to post weaning diarrhoea and support the development of a diverse and stable microbiota.


AB Neo has several years of experience in helping clients to make the switch away from therapeutic use of zinc oxide. But with the June 2022 deadline looming, isn’t it too late for those piglet producers who have yet to make the switch?

[Simon Tibble] No, but time is running out. Without a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution, and so many variable factors as we’ve outlined, there must be careful assessment and collaboration between producers, their vets and nutrition providers, and then farm workers must understand the critical role they play, and the correct protocols need to be in place for optimum success. This takes time and preparation, so we would strongly urge producers to begin that preparation as soon as possible.



Given the many on-farm variables and that each removal programme differs from one farm to another, have you ever recommended products from outside the AB Neo portfolio as more suitable solutions?

[Simon Tibble] Our research has included development of our own nutritional supplements to support nutrition programmes – to be able to help on occasions where feed alone is not enough. Entire teams of field technicians are knowledgeable and trained extensively to assess and advise accordingly. Feed additives can be used to support gut health and microflora balance (e.g., organic acids, prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics). Whilst not a direct replacement for zinc, they can form part of a holistic nutritional management strategy, and this is where we are developing additional solutions.



After the ban on therapeutic use of zinc oxide, what other bans do you think the European piglet sector will be facing in the future?

[Simon Tibble] Feed antibiotics and water-borne medication systems will lean towards precision to treat only infected animals. We can also anticipate that antimicrobial treatments will be as individualised as possible and lab diagnosis and antibiograms will play important role.



Published in association with AB Neo