Current and Future Availability of Livestock Products

The one thing that is consistent in life is that everything changes. It is very easy to long for the days before strict regulations, when we had many tools in our toolbox to address issues we faced. As the swine industry increases its focus on export markets every year, swine production has become more complicated. When we focus so heavily on foreign markets that impose heavy restrictions on imports, we limit the available tools in our toolbox even more. As a result of import restrictions, there are a few products that are not available and others that might also face repeal of approval for use.

Products no longer widely used
Paylean (ractopamine):
Paylean helps add lean pounds at the end of a finishing turn. Even though it is not banned in the United States, this is one product no longer widely used due to export markets that require ractopamine-free pork (China and Europe). Paylean is still accessible for purchase, and ractopamine for cattle is available under the Optaflexx name. The difficulty lies in getting pork processed when the largest processors (Smithfield, Tyson, JBS) are racto-free. The United States does not share the same concerns as the Chinese market because in this country, we typically consume different parts of the pig. The FDA regulates ractopamine residue levels in meat to remain below certain levels. The meat that Americans typically consume has acceptable levels, yet the organs and other parts of the pig common to the Chinese diet can exceed FDA limits.

While it may have felt like large packers went ractopamine-free overnight, the decision had been contemplated for years and the African Swine Fever outbreaks accelerated the timeline significantly as countries faced huge losses in swine production. However, we should remember that there are no guarantees in the world market, and there will likely come a time that our plays for a more significant portion of the Chinese market may fall apart. As many of you are aware, going racto-free is not an easy process, and there are many chances of cross-contamination that can lead to your racto-free pork not testing racto-free.

An excellent resource for questions regarding this topic is Iowa State’s Swine Medicine Education Center fact sheet “Ractopamine Free Pork and Implications for Use in Growing Pigs: Frequently Asked Questions” by Locke Karriker and Chris Rademacher. I had not previously considered a cross-contamination scenario that includes trailering a pig and heifer (that had been fed Optaflexx) together.

Mecadox (carbadox):
We’ve been using Mecadox since the 1970s for dysentery and bacterial enteritis issues, as well as an increased rate of gain and improved feed efficiency. The science behind the product has shown that carbadox is safe, yet the FDA has been working issues with carcinogenic residues. In April of 2016, the FDA started working on reversing approval for this product, and in the summer of 2020, they released a proposal to revoke the residue testing method for carbadox. By doing this, they could completely withdraw approval for Mecadox as there would no longer be a way to test for carbadox residues.

Other products to watch
Zinc Oxide:
High levels of zinc are currently added to nursery diets to reduce post-weaning diarrhea and the need for antibiotics. At this time, the use of high levels of zinc in nursery diets in Europe requires a veterinarian script, and the use of Zinc Oxide at the pharmacological levels (over 150ppm) will be banned in Europe by June of 2022. Europe’s concern with zinc stems in part from Danish studies indicating that 94% of the zinc added to swine feed is excreted in the manure, which is creating a buildup in the soil that could result in crop issues. There has also been some talk that high zinc levels could help some bacteria develop antibiotic resistance.

If zinc oxide is no longer allowed for use in Europe, we ask ourselves what will be used as a replacement? Nutritional and management approaches must be must be used together. Some promising nutritional approaches in the initial nursery phases include reducing crude protein, using fibrous feedstuffs and certain feed additives, and ensuring we are balancing minerals properly to reduce the number of nutrients reaching the hindgut, thus reducing the amount of food for bacterial growth in the hindgut. Management changes could include better sow and piglet management, older weaning ages, etc. The big push has been and will continue to be to find feed additives (like benzoic acid and other organic acid blends and yeast products) to help mitigate some of the challenges the pigs will face.

Of concern is the trend to follow European production methods, even though farming in the United States is entirely different than farming in Europe. It is essential to recognize that we are not comparing apples to apples when assessing production systems. Yet, we should also acknowledge that at some point our methods will likely mirror what has happened in Europe. When we ponder the nutritional adjustments that Denmark is considering, we should recognize they intend to decrease protein from 23% to 20% in their nursery diets. The Danes are currently starting their nursery diets at a higher protein level than we use in the US, and the decrease will bring them closer to our production system. If you review the 2019 presentations from the Zero Zinc Summit in Copenhagen, you will find quite a few from ingredient companies trying to prove that their product will be the one that replaces zinc oxide. In the end, it will be a combination of products that we are already familiar with and using on many farms, which will help weaned pigs to make the transition from the sow to life on their own. We will continue to work to find the best solutions for our customers that we can!