Sector Swine

Aim For Zero: a 3-in-1 concept as an alternative to antibiotics and medicinal zinc oxide

High concentrations of zinc oxide have been used for many years as a welcome supplement to antibiotics to prevent post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets. Recently, however, there is increasing concern regarding the use of antibiotics in pig production. This is due, on the one hand, to the occurrence of antibiotic resistance in pigs and possible transfer to people who are also dependent on antibiotics to treat serious bacterial infections.  On the other hand, there is also increasing insight into, among other things, the ecotoxicity that has led to the decision by the European Commission to ban the use of therapeutic concentrations of zinc oxide in feed throughout the whole of the European Union by 26 June 2022 at the latest.


As the EU members states may determine the length of the transition period themselves, the end of the marketing authorisation varies from country to country. Therefore, very quickly after the communication of the European Commission, the Netherlands decided to withdraw the marketing authorisation of Gutal®, the only veterinary product based on zinc oxide authorised for use in the Netherlands, and to ban its use from May 2018. Other countries have already followed, such as Belgium and France.


This meant that in these countries we, together with our customers, could prepare them step by step and enable them to switch to production without medicinal zinc.  As a result of this we are able to share our field experience with our customers in the countries still facing this challenge. As in addition to the challenge of eliminating medicinal zinc, they are also confronted with another challenge: the new EU regulations on the use of antibiotics that will come into effect from 28 January 2022. The main objective of Regulations 2019/4 and 2019/6 is the banning of the routine use of antibiotics and (preventive) group treatments.


Earlyfeed is known on the market for its cost-effective solutions and innovative concepts to support gut health and thus reduce the use of antimicrobial agents. An example here is the well-known product Aromabiotic®, a patented specific blend of medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs). At Earlyfeed we are convinced that the key to a successful ban on medicinal zinc and a reduction in the use of antibiotics calls for an integrated approach. For this reason together with Agrimprove we have launched the ‘Aim For Zero’ programme. This concept contains comprehensive advice with the focus on three pillars: management, nutrition and the application of innovative solutions.

Good farrowing house management is vital

The farrowing house is important for a profitable and healthy production unit and is also the starting point of the ‘Aim-For-Zero programme’. Rapidly evolving genetics in pig production means bigger litter sizes and as a result of this the piglets also have reduced access to colostrum and milk; consequently the gut not only develops less well, but also less efficiently.  A well-developed gut and gut microflora are vital for problem-free weaning. This is very clear if we look at the relative ease with which 26-day-old piglets are weaned, as compared with early weaned piglets. Teaching the piglets to eat from 2 days after birth is vital for a successful and healthy weaning process. The active support of all piglets will on the one hand contribute to a healthy microbiome and on the other hand guarantee a well-developed gut. The gut must be able to absorb nutrients optimally and prevent problems with gut microflora and health. Earlyfeed has launched the START+ concept for optimal management of gut development and healthy gut microflora. This concept, based on the working of prebiotic components in sow colostrum and milk, will result in the development of a healthy gut. Good farrowing house management will deliver benefits more than ever in zinc oxide-free and antibiotic-free production.

Safety first

Keeping the piglets healthy, this is the most important thing in the first 14 days after weaning and this is precisely where the ‘Aim-For-Zero programme’ focuses on. Questions that must be asked include: What factors can we change? What are the genetics on the production unit? What is the unit’s health status? Can drinking water quality and climate conditions be improved? How are the piglets housed after weaning, and how can we reduce these stressors with feed under these conditions? It is important to take a look at the bigger picture! It is much more than simply suppressing Coli; it is about supporting healthy gut microflora and maintaining the gut barrier function. With Vitastart Zero we offer a nutritional solution that focusses on a safe start for piglets. To do this we look, on the one hand, at the use of inert and fermentable fibres, the checking of the acid-binding capacity, the use of specific energy sources for the gut microflora and microvilli and pay close attention to protein digestibility. On the other hand, the concept also includes the innovative solution Vitazero. This additive combines the antibacterial effect of MCFAs, the proven antioxidant effect of plant polyphenols and the pathogen binding effect of specially selected functional fibres. At the same time we continue to stimulate the feed intake vital to guarantee safety. To do this we use tasty and easily digestible raw materials such as extruded grains.

Looking forward to 2022!

Now, approximately 2.5 years after the official launch, the many positive practical trials show that weaning without medicinal zinc and antibiotics is very feasible provided that all the different aspects are managed correctly. Currently we estimate that approximately 8 million piglets have been weaned successfully using the ‘Aim-For-Zero’ programme within the EU. But this figure is only 5.5% of the pig population in the EU. However, it should be noted here that the EU countries with a high sow and piglet population have not already implemented either the EU legislation on the zinc oxide ban or that on the use of antibiotics.  Earlyfeed has the vision that anticipating the application of sound management and the use of correct nutritional solutions such as Vitastart Zero are the key to starting to implement now the EU legislation with effective start date of 2022 without reducing technical performance and the economic results linked to this.

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