A 1999 ban on the use of antibiotics on Swiss pig farms is yet to take full effect, according to the Federal Veterinary Office. The office said that the drugs could not be phased out immediately.
Farmers use antibiotics to promote growth in pigs, so increasing financial turnover on farms. But they also prevent infection amongst the animals.
Federal Veterinary Office spokesman Heinz Müller said that since the 1999 ban farmers had found their pigs were more likely to catch infections. They were therefore continuing to administer antibiotics to their animals for medical reasons, he said.
Because of this medical need, Müller said, his office had not imposed the strictest of control regimes up to now. But he said that this would change in the current year, with cantonal veterinary officers responsible for policing the issue of antibiotics to farmers.
The Federal Veterinary Office also plans to carry out random sampling in abattoirs to test for the presence of undeclared antibiotics. It also plans to encourage veterinarians to opt for prevention rather than cure when treating sick pigs, in order to help farmers phase out the use of drugs.
But Suisseporcs, Switzerland's pork farmers' association, has warned that a large-scale testing regime may be ineffective. Adrian Schmitter, the director of the association, said that antibiotics are quickly assimilated by a pig's metabolism, and become almost undetectable.
This would cast doubt on any statistics produced by such a testing system, he said. He added that around 80 per cent of Switzerland's pork farmers take part in the official pig health service, which advises producers on their animals' health.
This system was highly effective, and better than that of any other country, he said.
The use of antibiotics by pig farmers made headlines in Switzerland this week, following a scandal that erupted in neighbouring Austria. The Austrian authorities shut down over 15 farms after finding evidence of illegal use of drugs, and Switzerland imposed a ban on the import of Austrian pork.
There are fears that consumption of excessive amounts of antibiotic-laden pork could lead to resistance to the drugs amongst humans, with serious medical consequences following even the smallest infection.
swissinfo with agencies