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Overview of This Week's Pig Industry News

2 April 2012, at 11:46pm

ANALYSIS – In the US and the UK, pressure is mounting to reduce the antibiotics used in farm animals but in both countries, veterinarians are urging caution and the supporting responsible use, writes senior editor, Jackie Linden. The new USDA Quarterly Pigs and Hogs report reveals that there were two per cent more total pigs on 1 March than on the same date last year. Furthermore, the breeding inventory was also up by one per cent and average litter size at weaning was another record at 9.97.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) has reaffirmed its support of the responsible use of antibiotics in food animals after a federal court ruling demanded that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) start proceedings to withdraw approval of certain uses of antibiotics used in food production.

Pressure to reduce antibiotic use was ramped up further in the UK with the publication last week of a report from the Soil Association entitled ‘E. coli Superbugs on Farms and Food’. Here too, the report brought a call for the preventative use of antibiotics in healthy animals to be phased out, and the overall use of antibiotics on farms halved within five years.

In response, the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has urged caution over the findings of a Soil Association literature review, questioning the claim that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ and in contrast, it points to the scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority.

In a statement, BVA said: “Few studies designed to assess risk factors for ESBL and/or AmpC occurrence in animals are available. The use of antimicrobials is a risk factor for selection and spread of resistant clones, resistance genes and plasmids.“

The opinion then goes on to state: “How widespread ESBL–carrying bacteria are in food-producing animals in the breeding, rearing and fattening sectors is generally unknown.“

The latest USDA Quarterly Pigs and Hogs Report was published late last week. The count of all hogs and pigs on 1 March was 64.9 million head, two per cent more than on the same date last year but down two per cent from December 2011.

Breeding inventory, at 5.82 million head, was up one per cent from last year and up slightly from the previous quarter. Market hog inventory, at 59.1 million head, was up two per cent from last year but down two per cent from last quarter.

The December 2011-February 2012 pig crop, at 28.7 million head, was up three per cent from 2011. The average pigs saved per litter was a record high of 9.97.

An independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries has released a detailed set of recommendations to policy–makers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. Recommendations include investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems; intensifying agriculture whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing losses and waste in the food system.

In their report entitled Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

In recent years, pig meat processors in Germany focused mainly on increasing slaughter capacity but a new report on the Germany pig meat industry says that a phase of consolidation seems to have started.

The slaughter pig market is highly concentrated in Germany. The top 10 companies slaughter 75 per cent of the pigs in the country and the top four – Tönnnies, Vion, Westfleisch and Danish Crown – account for more than 60 per cent of the market, according to a report from ISN.

In the Midwest of the US, a series of explosions from manure pits on pig farms are stumping scientists. Since 2009, six farms have blown up after methane trapped in an unidentified, pit–topping foam caught a spark. In the afflicted region, the foam is found in roughly one in four hog farms. There seems to be nothing farmers can do except be very careful.

Turning to health issues, scientists have discovered that a pig's ability to withstand porcine reproductive and respiratory syndrome (PRRS) is closely tied to one genetic marker.