Antibiotic-free animal production in Southeast Asia
South east Asia, including China is by far the biggest producer of pork, mutton, eggs, and poultry meat.
But South East Asian countries are in general not the most efficient producers. Production is reduced significantly by poor management, poor farm hygiene and hence prone to high disease occurrence.
Antibiotic use in South East Asia is high, not only curative but also as a preventive measure antibiotics are added to the feed. These preventive antibiotics work very well, are cheap and promote growth. ( Not surprisingly called antibiotic growth promoters, AGP's). These AGP's are not allowed in egg and milk production as residues will appear in milk and eggs and for meat production there is a withdrawal time and therefore not detectable anymore in the meat when withdrawal time is respected.
Taking these AGP's out will at this moment have a very big impact on the animal husbandry and meat production in Asia. The poor management and farm hygiene will result in an a much higher disease problem, less healthy animals and overnight drop in production, which in return will result in high meat prices and import of pork and poultry meat which does not fit in the policy of a lot of countries to remain self-sufficiency in meat production.
So the question is when is SE Asia ready to forbid AGP's and what has to be changed?
To reduce risk on diseases there are a couple of measures that in countries with high production (for example USA, Netherlands, Denmark) are commonly practiced and rarely are seen in SE Asia.
So changing to the below mentioned practices is a must before Asia can withdraw their AGP's. Among these measure the most important ones are summarized below.
1. All-in-all-out systems. In one farm all animals should be of the same age. So no broilers or laying hens of different ages, no different production types (eggs and poultry meat at the same farm).
In pig farms there should be different rooms/departments for different production stages. (All pregnant sows together, all piglets in one room should be of same age, all farrowing and lactation sows in one room should be of the same age. Practicing this management the whole room is emptied at the same time and appropriate and good disinfection can be executed before a new group of animals will be housed.
2. Good disinfection and cleaning. Dry cleaning and wet cleaning should be done before disinfecting the room or stable. Often Asian farmers try to disinfect dirt or do not disinfect at all. A wide variety of cleaning agents and disinfectants is available on the market in SE Asia, either imported or locally produced, but only very few are used as farmers consider it too high cost.
3. Ventilation. Bad ventilation is one of the main causes of a lot of diseases. Ventilation is by the majority of farms only used to get rid of excess of heat and not to get fresh air and reducing ammonia and moisture. And it is exactly the moisture what in combination with the right temperature is the cause of excessive growth of bacteria and causing diseases.
4. Clean road-dirty road system. A fence around the farm should protect delivery trucks visitors, dogs, etc. from entering the farm area. In particular feed delivery trucks, slaughterhouse truck and people should stay outside the farm. They are for a big part the vectors between different farms and carrying diseases from one to another farm and area.
5. Disinfection at entrance. By entering the farm a standard procedure should be at least changing boots and clothes, and preferably showering. These boots and clothes should stay in the farm and are never allowed to go out. Disinfecting the boots and taking a shower to go in or out the farm is common practice in high productive farms in Western countries.
Good vaccination will reduce chance of animals affected by specific diseases. But often smaller back yard farmers do not use vaccines or use cheap poor quality local vaccines and are the potential risk for the whole area. Small local vaccines producers often developed a vaccine for a strain that at that moment is virulent but do not update these vaccines if other field strains of the disease are emerging. This resulting in vaccination against the wrong field virus.
Training and information
Most farmers in SE Asia do not realize the risk and/or needs of the points above. Therefore good information should be given to farmers explaining the advantages and economical benefits of good hygiene practice, as well as the human health risk of antimicrobial resistance.
This should be an active information exchange. Putting everything on an internet site will be less effective, unless it is as a back-up of the activities, as farmers and in particular the smaller ones do often not have internet access. (And these are the farmers with the highest potential risk.)
Training programs on village level might be possibility, TV spots are possible, but a very suitable way is to have the feed companies involved. The feed companies and feed dealers are at least weekly having contact with every single farmer. Here we can create a win-win situation as fewer diseases will result in higher production, lower mortality, and also higher need for feed!
Wet markets have already shown various times the source of the disease spreading through an area. For example in China the spread of bird flu, H5N1, H7N9 causing human fatalities. Best is to have a ban on all live animals on markets but given the SE Asian situation where fresh meat from a live animal is of significant importance for freshness of the meat, a good start should be footwear disinfection mats at market entrances and exits and educate people why this is needed.
Transport trucks for animals should be disinfected between every farm, hatchery, and slaughterhouse visit. Not only wheels or tires but also the inside should be cleaned and disinfected. Same procedure should be applicable for feed delivery trucks. In case of transport of poultry not only the truck should be disinfected but also the cages in which birds are transported. Specialized animal transport companies would be the best in this. Wheel dips are often there but also often not regularly cleaned and refreshed, and a way around it, for example for motorcycles, is not an exception.
Government policy by stamping out
At this moment in most countries in the area farmers get very little of no compensation in case of a disease outbreak when they according regulations have to report, resulting in a forced killing of their animals. Worse even when a disease hits the try quickly to sell the diseased animals at least to get some income and farmers will not report a disease outbreak. Besides the small compensation that farmers might get, which is by far not enough to cover the cost of lost production and animals, the regulations and application for the compensation is too complex for farmers. They do not know where and how to apply for compensations. Simplifying these procedures will help to reduce disease outbreaks.
Setting up integrations and bigger farm
In some countries, for example in China, government is already stimulation the set up of bigger enterprises in the animal production industry. A big integrated company with own slaughterhouses likes to control the production and flow of live animals to the slaughter plant. A constant daily supply of slaughter animals is needed to run the operation efficiently. So any disease outbreak will interrupt this supply. Therefore these bigger companies are more willing to invest in good housing, hygiene, transport to guarantee their supply. Besides this they have also a social responsibility as thousands of employees and families are depending economically from these integrations.
Of course a very good control system has to be put in place. AGP's are cheap and work excellent. So the temptation for farmers is big, even after a official legal ban on use, to continue administer these drugs. Animals on markets and slaughterhouses must have tracking and tracing so in case of breaking the law farmers can found back and punished.
Only if in Asia farm hygiene, transport, training and information, markets and government policies, including stimulating integrations, and control and punishment systems are in place the severe disease problems in pigs and poultry will reduce and the AGP free production of meat can be implemented.
Of course implementation can be done in steps similar as done in Europe, with allowing still some AGP for a couple of years as a transition period.
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Article made possible through the contribution of Jan Cortenbach, MSc and Royal De Heus Animal Nutrition