Status Quo of Alternatives to Antibiotics in Pig Farming

AVANT Project – Alternatives to Veterinary ANTimicrobials 

The AVANT project explores viable alternatives to Colistin & Zinc Oxide, urgently needed for European swine industry. AVANT is a new 5-year, multi-actor inter-sectorial EU-funded research project and will bring forward new technologies and products to the market that allow modern pig farms to wean healthy piglets without the use of antibiotics, or at least with very limited use.

“Prevention is better than cure” 

(European Commission motto on the One Health Initiative and animal health strategy)

Potentially, any use of antibiotics in animals could eventually affect the future treatment efficacy in the individual animal or herd, but also in consumers. This is due to the connectedness and direct contact of microbial populations and the environment. Thus, the use of antibiotics needs reducing in both treatment groups, animals and humans to ultimately preserve their effectiveness.

As shown by the European Innovation Partnership for Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability (EIP-AGRI, launched by the European Commission in 2013) several preventive non-medication actions reducing the risk of infectious diseases transmission besides infectious factors have been identified. The three main areas, where practical solutions already exist or may be further developed to strategically reduce antibiotic usage in EU pig farming are:

  • General enhancement of animal health and welfare by improved biosecurity, husbandry management, facility design, and training of personnel, veterinarians and other advisers
  • Feed supplements and techniques including vaccination, breeding and feeding programmes promoting pig health (certain feed structure & viscosity can reduce the risk of e.g. Salmonella infections)
  • Balanced and sustainable use of antibiotics by changing human behaviour, habits and attitude through improved information dissemination, education and training

“The key to reducing the need for antibiotics in the pig sector is improving the pig health.”

(Christelle Fablet, Coordinating Expert, EIP-AGRI Focus Group on Animal Husbandry)

Expert focus group has proposed several ways to promote and implement best practices for each cluster, i.e. sow and piglet management, biosecurity, housing conditions and human attitudes and behaviour determinants, to contribute to cost-effective practical solutions that leads to the reduction of antibiotics use. The group also proposed the use of interactive tools for farmers and farm advisors for improved husbandry management, using standardised risk-based analyses.

Since improvements of animal health and welfare also results from social and human sciences, further education and information, advisory task forces, bench-marking systems (data collection and transfer), consulting boards and special training schemes for farmers and veterinarians are recommended. This includes also economic evaluations and required demonstrations of research results in field testing. The EIP-AGRI focus group concluded:

“A multidisciplinary research approach should be adopted to develop solutions and strategies to prevent and manage multi-factorial respiratory and enteric diseases. Communication strategies and coaching should also be implemented across Europe […] planning an EU-wide guidance and demonstration of good biosecurity and health management practices

Here is where the AVANT project sets in, following recommendations for future projects with concrete action plans to catalyse innovation. The main innovation development activities focus on these treatment and prevention targets as alternatives for antibiotics:

    • Innovative synbiotic feed additives (BIOMIN)
    • Faecal transplantation and in-farm protocols to treat certain enteric infections in pigs (University of Copenhagen)
    • Anti-ETEC phages for the targeted host species specific intervention bringing ETEC-targeting phage products close to the market (Easy Agricare)
    • Advanced Anti-ETEC polymers regarding optimised dosage requirements, safety and efficacy as well as improved mode of action (Royal Veterinary Collage)
    • New oral & injectable immunostimulants will signify a major breakthrough in immunomodulation approaches (Ovejero Laboratories)
    • Alternative feeding strategies modulating the pig gut microbiome to prevent post-weaning diarrhoea (Schothorst Feed Research, Wageningen Research)

AVANT’s project partners from industry, research and associations (in total 14 from 9 different European countries) now work together in a multi-actor approach to reach the afore mentioned goals within the next five years, with an overall budget of € 6,5 Mio (EU Contribution: € 5,99 Mio). Here we will keep you informed about the project’s progress, ongoing activities, networking events and press releases. Please subscribe to our upcoming AVANT newsletter to keep informed!


Further information:

Find our project entries on EIP-AGRI and  CORDIS here.


Dr. Stefan Weiss, Dipl. Biol.

RTDS Group, Dissemination & Communication

AVANT – Follow us on LinkedIn!

Introducing the new H2020 project on alternatives to antibiotics in pig farming. AVANT is a multi-actor inter-sectorial project aimed at developing alternatives to antimicrobials for the management of bacterial infections in pigs, especially diarrhoea during the weaning period, as the major indication for antimicrobial use in livestock in Europe. During pre-clinical studies, efficacy, toxicity, and mode of action of these interventions is tested, and their dosage and formulation optimized. The results and a survey for veterinarian-, farmer- and consumers perception of antimicrobial alternatives, will be used together with legal and economic considerations to select three interventions for large-scale farm trials, assessing clinical efficacy and impact on antimicrobial use. The main impacts: The AVANT portfolio comprises a variety of alternatives for treatment or prevention of diarrhoea and/or respiratory infections, namely: gutstabilizing interventions based on a symbiotic product and faecal microbiota transplantation; Novel veterinary medicinal products containing bacteriophages and polymers for targeted treatment of enterotoxigenic E. coli infections; Immunostimulating injectable and feed additive products; Alternative feeding strategies targeting sows and piglets.

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New Social Media Profile – AVANT on Facebook!

In order to introduce our AVANT project to a wider audience, our channel on Facebook informs about current activities and upcoming events such as the virtual kick-off meeting. Here we also present stories from the project context, such as this one about the latest findings of MIT:

What do antibiotics have to do with Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”?

Although AVANT is striving for alternatives to antibiotics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers impressively demonstrate how AI can be used to identify new powerful antibiotic compounds using machine learning algorithms.

“We wanted to develop a platform that would allow us to harness the power of artificial intelligence to usher in a new age of antibiotic drug discovery […] Our approach revealed this amazing molecule which is arguably one of the more powerful antibiotics that has been discovered.” (James Collins, Professor of Medical Engineering & Science in MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering & Science [IMES] and Department of Biological Engineering)

A predictive computer model was trained for in silico screening, which were until now not sufficiently accurate to transform drug discovery. Testing a library of about 6,000 compounds, the model picked out one molecule with strong antibacterial activity against resistant Clostridium difficile, Acinetobacter baumannii and Mycobacterium tuberculosis.

Interestingly, the scientists decided to call it halicin (formerly tested as possible diabetes drug), after the fictional artificial intelligence system “H.A.L. 9000” from Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 science-fiction movie.

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