Pig industry needs the appliance of science

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ANIMAL welfare is a big issue for the pig industry which needs big producers to help solve it, a senior executive of ACMC told a conference.

Ed Sutcliffe, technical director of the pigs giant, said the appliance of science was needed to reduce suffering at the same time as increasing productivity.

He was speaking at a conference at ACMC headquarters, in Beeford, near Driffield, where experts from inside and outside the company discussed the theme: More From Less.

He said genetic selection had clearly caused ethical problems. In the dairy industry, the quest for milk yield had led to a marked reduction in fertility and longevity. And the Danish pig industry was embroiled in a public debate following reports that 25 per cent of piglets died before weaning.

High mortality could be a consequence if selection was made on a single trait – such as total born – without emphasis on “liveability”, said Mr Sutcliffe. Some breeds, such as the Meishan, had large litters but low pre-weaning mortality, so larger litters by themselves were not necessarily the problem.

Also, piglet survivability could be improved by artificial means, such as the use of rescue decks.

UK herds with above-average litters had mortality eight per cent lower than the headline Danish figures, and public perception of a British edge on welfare issues was very important.

There were other ways in which science could help. For example, the halothane gene could increase the lean meat percentage in carcases. But pigs carrying the gene were five times more likely to die in transit. By selecting for meat quality without the halothane gene, both ethical and quality issues could be addressed.

Mick Sloyan, chief executive of BPEX, was a guest speaker. He said: “The global challenge facing us all is how to feed a growing population. The only solution is more from fewer resources. Good quality genetics and constant innovation in breeding is vital if we are to achieve this.”

He said producers should expect high volatility in feed prices to continue. Hugh Burton, buyer for Associated British Nutrition, agreed.