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France Faces Structural Rigidity

by 5m Editor
27 January 2009, at 12:00am

"There are many structural constraints on French pig producers," Yvon Salaün told ThePigSite in Paris, at the headquarters of the French pig institute, IFIP (Institut du Porc), writes Peter Crosskey for ThePigSite. Mr Salaün is the head of IFIP's pig husbandry unit in Brittany.


Picture: IFIP

There are around 14,000 pig units in France, where the traditional model has mostly combined breeding and finishing on a single site. This mode of production accounts for more than 60 per cent of finished pigs. The nominal national average is 180 sows per farm, although France has enough large units to push the average well past the median.

Adding capacity to existing facilities is a very long process, Mr Salaün explains.

Pig farmers have to provide environmental impact studies for any new development, even if they want to replace old sheds in a new location on an existing site. There is an administrative concern over nitrate levels in the water supply.

IFIP Celebrates Renovated Microbiology Labs

The French pig institute, IFIP, marked the renovation of its microbiology laboratory with an open evening at the facility, housed within the French national veterinary school at Maisons-Alfort, on the edge of Paris. The occasion marked another step in the development of a national veterinary showpiece, which will be complemented in a few years' time by an animal hospital, already under construction.

"Located in Paris, with its own Metro station and near high speed rail links to international airports, what better location could we have?" Jean-Paul Mialot, director of the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire d'Alfort (ENVA) declared at a reception on the ENVA site. He reminded his audience of the visit by French farm minister, Michel Barnier, just a few days previously, when Mr Barnier reiterated the government's commitment to developing the world class veterinary campus at Maisons-Alfort.

Founded in 1766, the Maisons-Alfort site last year launched a restructuring plan, supported by the state. It includes both restoration work and the construction of a number of new buildings.

As part of a pre-existing project, the IFIP microbiology lab was renovated, re-equipped and reopened for work in April last year. It is housed in the historic Zundel building, within a modern shell that allows sterile conditions to be maintained.

IFIP's microbiologists are equipped to carry out finely tuned serotyping and counting work. The institute has referenced more than 3,000 strains of Listeria monocytogenes using pulsotyping and is currently building a database for Salmonella enteritica. Pulsotyping results are checked against an extensive serotype database compiled inhouse by IFIP.

For new product development, the Maisons-Alfort team can carry out challenge tests, ageing tests and predictive microbiology. This can also include customised contamination modelling or risk evaluations that can help to inform decision making in the event of an incident.

These specialisations form part of IFIP's complete range of services to help with the implementation of best practice and quality assurance schemes. In addition to carrying out hygiene audits, IFIP runs extensive training services with a dedicated training unit.

Also on show at the open evening was IFIP's mobile tomography unit (see sidebar), allowing onsite 3D X-ray analysis of samples up to a half carcass (of finished pigs, but not breeding animals). This, too, came into service last spring and has now been commissioned.

It is currently being used to develop new carcass conformation reference values. There is potentially a wide range of research applications for the unit, since it can also be used in-vivo for small animals under anaesthetic.

IFIP is currently putting the finishing touches to next month's two-day conference, the 41st Days of Pig Research (Journées de la Recherche Porcine), which will see the publication of around 50 papers. This annual event is attended by around 700 French-speaking delegates and is attracting growing interest outside the francophone world, helped by the availability of simultaneous translation into English. (For further details, click here.)

This year, the first morning (3 February) includes three papers on different aspects of Salmonella, as well as eight topic posters, which allow researchers to present their work to delegates. There is no shortage of salmonella-related issues to discuss.


The microbiology laboratory in the French Pig Institute
Picture: IFIP

The French regulations, which stem from the European IPPC concerns, assume that pig units are 'listed installations', meaning that they are considered as a readily identifiable source of environmental impacts.

The result is that the planning thresholds for pig units has been set very low, at approximately 40 sows, leading to a very rigid structure in pig holdings.

Once a planning process has been set in motion, it automatically involves public consultation and this can often lead to opposition or even conflicts, because of presumed prejudices associated with the project: pollution, odour and sometimes also just an aversion to the 'industrial' activity that pig farming is supposed to represent.

Another difficulty to develop new pig activities in high concentrated areas is that every new project can only replace pre-existing units. A farmer can apply for authorisation to replace an existing shed with a new one, but this transfer of 'quotas' comes with a reduction, so that the global production in the area cannot increase.

However, neighbours will only be informed of the application to build a new shed and not be informed of the intention to close down an existing one (and may choose not to believe what the producer tells them, either).

"Outside regions like Britanny, where people are used to living alongside livestock, the planning process can be a real problem," says Mr Salaün.

Another area of pig husbandry in which consumer expectations lack a certain realism is castration (see Balancing Pig Welfare, Castration and Boar Taint).

"Handling entire males in a finishing shed is a more challenging proposition," observes Mr Salaün, adding that less invasive techniques were not entirely without wider consequences.

"Immuno-castration seems to work quite well, but it also causes some practical problems. Besides, there is only one brand of immuno-castration injection," reflects Mr Salaün.

There is a tremendous commercial kudos – not to mention sales – to be earned from an effective monopoly.

The injections need to be administered more than once, at specific intervals ahead of slaughter, requiring some fine judgements and careful management. The situation requires a simpler solution.

"There could be a potential use for laboratory techniques, such as those used with cattle to ensure exclusively female progeny.

However, the volumes of sperm required by the pig industry and some other technical limits could well make these options prohibitively resource-intensive and expensive at the moment and probably for some years to come."

The publication of Europe-wide porcine salmonella figures by the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) suggests a 17 per cent prevalence rate in France. "It's hard to decide which strategy will be the most effective," explains Mr Salaün.

"For instance, the Danes focussed heavily on the killing lines in their abattoirs and started grading farm units on the basis of pigs delivered."

Mr Salaün is concerned by the practical issues arising from tests which require a degree of subjectivity, such as matching the colour of a sample against a swatch.

Also, a plan at the farm level only allows a farm to have a generalised status as to salmonella prevalence, i.e. a global probability of being a carrier and a source of salmonella further on the chain (during lairage, or at the abattoir ).

But a lot of questions remain to make the strategy really efficient: the consistency of the evaluation itself, the number of farms involved in effective prevention programme and the fact that a lot of events could occur later, in the lorry or at the abattoir.

That is why the question of the best cost-benefit strategy is being posed everywhere in Europe today, whatever the experience each country might have accumulated.

IFIP commissions 3D X-ray analysis trailer


Picture: IFIP

The French pig institute, IFIP, has invested €600,000 in a mobile tomography unit that can carry out 3D X-ray analysis of anything from primal joints up to a half carcass. The medical X-ray scanner has an imaging diameter of 50 centimetres – so small that anaethetised animals can also be scanned.

The trailer was commissioned last year and has been scanning carcasses to compile conformation data. "The aim is to be able to use this unit as a reference instead of dissection, to establish conformation standards and grades," scanner operator, Mathieu Monziols, explained at the French national veterinary school in Maisons-Alfort, Paris.

The scanning unit can resolve thicknesses to within one millimetre, generating 16-bit images. So far, volumetric results from the unit have been accurate to within one per cent of dissection results.

The trailer is shielded with lead in the walls and floor to protect nearby humans or animals while scanning is in progress. It can operate completely autonomously, with self-contained electricity and cooling plants.


January 2009