Responsible use of antibiotics for pigs

One little cough and off to the doctor for a pill? We know better than that. We don’t say yes to antibiotics too quickly, and that also goes for pigs bred for consumption. The government is taking action to prevent drug abuse in the animal sector. “It’s nothing new to us,” says Saskia de Bock, the project manager for sustainable sourcing. “Our farmers have been committed to the responsible and careful use of antibiotics for years now.”

What do we do to control the use of antibiotics?

Saskia: “Using drugs too soon and too often can lead to resistance. For example, young healthy piglets often carry a bacteria, which is resistant to antibiotics. This is worrying because, if we eat that meat, our own arsenal of useful drugs is also reduced. And so at Colruyt Group, we take responsibility for public health and animal welfare. We prohibit our pig farmers from using preventive antibiotics, in other words, just for preventing disease.”

piglets in a sty
Young piglets are often drug-resistant due to the excessive use of antibiotics.

So how do they keep the animals healthy?

Saskia: “For years, we’ve been applying strict criteria to our meat suppliers. Animals must be able to grow healthily, with little or preferably no medication. This can be achieved with good sty hygiene and protection against external contamination. We also prefer closed systems where the pigs are suckled, grown and fattened in the same place, because the risk of disease is smaller. All these measures are described in a comprehensive manual.”

Does this mean that antibiotics are no longer used?

Saskia: “No, it’s not that simple. Diseases can always break out. In such cases, the vet supervises the correct use of antibiotics, according to AMCRA (Antimicrobial Consumption and Resistance in Animals) guidelines, which are included in our manual. Pig farmers who work with us must register all antibiotic use on an online platform, the AB Register. This inventory system was developed on the initiative of Belpork vzw, to make antibiotic policy in the Belgian pig sector more sustainable. In addition, we’ve built in extra waiting time between the end of the antibiotic course and slaughter, and we carry out additional checks to ensure that there is no significant drug residue in the meat.

big krijgt antibiotica toegediend
Individual registration and reporting of antibiotic use is a way to sensitise farmers.

What influence can Colruyt Group have as a retailer?

Saskia: “Our suppliers and farmers adhere to a number of agreements, laid out in the manual. As well as preventive antibiotic use, it also prohibits the use of tranquilisers. Every farmer gets a report of their antibiotic use every six months via the Belpork AB platform, together with a comparison to that of their colleagues. That in itself works by sensitising farmers to committing to reduce antibiotic use.”

And the result?

Saskia: “Our approach works! We’ve received our first report from the AB register and the results are encouraging. Farmers who follow our manual used fewer antibiotics on average than other farmers on the register. The use of the most vital drugs in the battle against human antibiotic resistance has fallen in comparison with 2015. We’re carrying on this way!”

Name: Saskia De Block
Function: Project manager for sustainable sourcing

Job: With internal and external partners I analyse how we can offer our customers products that are as sustainable as possible.
Energy: Being both result-focused and having a positive impact gives me a lot of energy.
Nicest project: Rolling out the teaching manual for chickens in discussion with our suppliers.

With this initiative, we contribute to the following Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations.

Good health & wellbeing Partnerships for the goals