The future of the global pig industry – hit or bust?

29-06-2009 | |
David Burch Pig health

Overall, the global pig industry must be a hit. It is a complex but well-structured industry with an end product that is wanted, needed and is a going to be a growing staple diet in many parts of the world. However, there are some bumps foreseen along the road.

There has been and will be a steady growth in the pig industry in the future. Pork is the next most commonly eaten and cheapest meat after chicken, so as emerging countries develop, particularly in the Far East, the demand for pork will grow. There are over a billion people in China that will want to improve their standard of living and pork is certainly on the menu. The Russian Federation, with over 250 million people also wants to build up their pig industry and improve production to reach a sustainable, self-sufficient market. This may not help exporters but the core business and global demand is likely to grow in the foreseeable future as economies expand.

So what are the downsides? Feed is one of the major costs and we have seen the recent effects of high demand and price from both usual markets such as food for man and animals and now the new biofuel production. This will not go away but can be countered possibly by the utilisation of waste food from human feed processing or wastage. In the UK we have suffered from the damaging effects of not processing waste food properly, which caused a foot and mouth epidemic, but if the materials were centrally processed to a consistent high infection-free quality, the pig would be an ideal animal to utilise it and solve some of the garbage disposal problems we have today.

Housing will steadily develop but really we have the systems and facilities available already but they are not always properly utilised. Type of housing linked to improved welfare or perceived improved welfare such as the banning of sow gestation and farrowing stalls will be a continued consideration. We can expect the pressure to carry on.

We have been a production driven industry for the last 50 years and welfare has not always been a strong feature. Although, we do recognise that bad welfare can affect production and performance, so we normally don’t pursue that route. As society changes, societal sense or consciousness also changes and the feelings of the buying public generally want to buy meat from animals that are reared in a perceived ‘nice way’ – eg outdoors or free range but certainly not by a ‘factory farm’, which is the usual and powerful portrayal by the animal welfarists. Outdoors sounds nice but it is miserable in the cold and wet and sun burn is a potential hazard too. Castration and tail docking will continue to be issues. There has to be a balance and hopefully more research will encourage the development of sensible, practical solutions.

Health will always be an issue as it is an integral part of productivity. The PCV2 epidemic is almost over in those countries that have access to vaccination but we are now waiting for the next one. We must learn from these experiences. We have developed a good viral technology base in Europe as a result, but this needs to be put into practical use to develop and approve vaccines much quicker than the standard 10-12 years that it has taken. We must learn to control the spread of new disease outbreaks. I am not sure what will be the new disease but we need to focus also on the old ones such as PRRSV, Aujeszky’s disease, swine fever and either control them more effectively or try to eliminate them. Bacterial diseases still remain a problem and Streptococcus suis seems to be increasing and Escherichia coli, Lawsonia intracellularis and Mycoplasma hyopneumoniae will always be with us. We have a window of opportunity to eradicate swine dysentery now before antibiotic resistance becomes too much of a problem.

Overall, the demand for pork is going to grow in the future and we must try to limit the bumps along the way by using good management and housing, alternative feed sources, sensible welfare and high standards of health and disease control to ensure efficient yet economic production in the future.