SuSi - Sustainability in pork production with immunocastration

Aim of the project:

To critically evaluate and optimise pork production with IC as an environmental, economic and socially sustainable alternative.

Introduction

A major challenge for EU pork production is the production of male piglets without surgical castration. About 75% of male piglets are surgically castrated – most of them without adequate anaesthesia or analgesia. This practice raises strong public disapproval since the procedure is painful and causes considerable animal welfare problems. It turned out that pork production entire male pigs (EM) is not facing the corresponding market acceptance, as boar taint remains an issue and welfare problems related to male-specific behavior exist. Also the use of anaesthesia during castration has disadvantages and violates the principle of physical integrity. Many of these problems can be avoided by immunocastration (IC), an active immunization against GnRH. Our project deals with IC as an alternative with potential economic and ecological advantages. It can make the European pork production more competitive – if it is optimized and gains greater market acceptance. SuSI is organized in 8 closely related work packages and includes experimental trials in four EU countries. During the first part of the SuSI-project, data and information from experimental trials are collected. Step 2 is the processing and analysis of specific data from these trials together with already existing data, step 3 the integration and dissemination. Steps 2 and 3 are the main tasks for the second half of the project.

What: The project will provide support for pork industry and farmers, but also for the decision-making and improving processes of governmental authorities towards an animal friendly and consumer-accepted pork production across the EU.

Why: European pork production faces a big challenge in the near future as stakeholders voluntarily agreed to end surgical castration (SC) without anaesthesia and pain relief after 2018. Despite public disapproval in a number of EU countries, the majority of male piglets are still surgically castrated. An alternative is raising entire males (EM), but this results in inferior pork quality and welfare problems. Another alternative is immunocastration (IC), but this technique is confronted with market uncertainties.

Where: The research is being performed in eight academic centres located in Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Poland and Slovenia.

Main project activities:

The project will analyse the consequences of IC for European pig production systems with respect to regional circumstances and societal preferences. Key issues regarding farm management, consequences for animals and product quality as well as consumer perspectives are covered in four work packages (WP). Three additional WP will integrate results on societal acceptance and environmental, economic and social sustainability. An additional WP involves dissemination of the results and exchange of information with stakeholders along the value chain.

Interim research findings:

The results of the study shown that immunocastration is a very reliable technique, regardless of housing conditions. Ttherefore, immunocastration can be used for all European pork production systems.

Imunocastration reliably prevents boar taint and increases pork quality when compared to boars.

Immunocastrates are also competitive in terms of growth rates. Through more efficient feed conversion compared to barrows, the environmental impact of immunocastration is reduced and nitrogen excretion is reduced. If feeding is optimized through precision feeding, further potentials with regard to environmental pollution can be generated.

To further increase market acceptance of this technique, immunocastrates must be priced according to the standard pricing systems for pig carcasses without any price deductions.

Pork quality of immunocastrates is suitable for further processing and the earlier the second vaccination is carried out, the more likely the pork of immunocastrates resembles that of barrows.

At the EU level, it is still unclear whether or not immunocastration will be allowed for organic pork production. Germany has already banned immunocastration for organic pig production. This decision is not based on scientific facts and prevents a consumer and animal welfare-friendly technique from being implemented in organic pig production. EU pork industry faces ambiguity challenges to justify their legitimacy position.

There is no organization or institution with sufficient power to lead the regulatory process for the surgical castration. Germany has an influential role in this market. In Germany, the end of surgical castration without anesthesia has been postponed for two years until 2020. This development affects positions of national and international stakeholders. Public discussion in 2018 showed that IC is not really accepted by the meat industry, and that the attitude of consumers is used as a spurious argument against it. Several organic pork organizations also omit IC, as they expect the forthcoming EU regulation on organic farming to ban the use of the vaccine Improvac. The reasons for this position, however, are based neither on fact nor on scientific results. These developments severely complicate a fact-based dialogue about the potential of IC to improve social and environmental sustainability in pork production in the EU. European expert groups of scientists and stakeholders will allow for the dissemination of SuSI results and encourage similar round tables for other countries. SuSI scientists actively shape this process and are at the forefront of it.

Project consortium:

Coordinated by: Prof. Volker Stefanski - University of Hohenheim (GERMANY)

  • BELGIUM: Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research
  • DENMARK: SEGES Pig Research Centre
  • FRANCE: French National Institute for Agricultural Research
  • THE NETHERLANDS: Wageningen University
  • POLAND: Warsaw University of Life Sciences
  • SLOVENIA: Kmetijski institute Slovenije and University of Ljubljana – Veterinary Faculty