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An Interview Exclusive from The<b>PigSite</b>.com - The Head of Genetics, Research and Development at JSR Genetics speaks exclusively to ThePigSite.com

Interview Exclusives from ThePigSite.com

ThePigSite.com's intrepid reporter interviews influential figures in the World of Agriculture and brings to you their opinions on a number of key industry questions:


Dr Alan Tinch, Head of Genetics, Research and Development at JSR Genetics speaks exclusively to ThePigSite.com

Overview

Dr Alan Tinch

Dr Alan Tinch
Head of Genetics, Research & Development

Alan graduated from Edinburgh University in Scotland with an Honours Degree in Animal Genetics and gained his PhD in the genetics of muscle growth with research carried out at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh.

He began his career in animal breeding with Aviagen Ltd where he held various positions including product development manager and head of international technical services.

Alan joined JSR Genetics Ltd in 2002 as Head of Genetics, Research and Development.


Take me there

One of the world's leading pig genetics companies based in Yorkshire, U.K. JSR Genetics Ltd was formed when JSR Healthbred merged with Newsham Hybrids and acquired the Cotswold Pig Development Company. JSR Genetics Ltd is a global company selling stock and providing genetic support through a network of distributors to over 30 companies around the world.

It develops and markets an extensive range of both Sire and Dam line products, A.I. products and services. JSR Genetics Ltd is part of the JSR Farming Group which has interests in Pig Genetics, Pig Production and Arable Farming.

Our reporter recently caught up with Alan to ask him some pertinent questions.

Pork seems to be increasing in popularity as a middle of the plate meal - why do you think pork has been resisted by fast food retailers in preference to beef and chicken?

Pork is the most popular meat in the world and in many markets processed products such as sausages and ready meals are driving increased consumption. In fact, pork consumed as bacon, ham, sausage, salami and in pork pies can be regarded as the original convenience food. Hot dogs feature on many fast food menus. Pork does not have a fast food champion such as McD's, BK or KFC driving pork as a brand.
     However, pork does occupy a central role as an ingredient in many successful fast food products, for example bacon served in combination with burgers, ham on pizza. The Industry should build on this success, aiming to increase the number of high quality, convenience pork products in the fast food and food service markets.

What are your key genetic goals going forward and why?

The goal of the JSR Genetics breeding programmes has always been to maximise profitability from farm to fork. The challenge we face is the range of different production systems and environmental conditions experienced by pigs within and between markets. JSR Genetics has handled the diversity selecting for straightforward production characteristics within our own and distributor nucleus herds giving local adaption of JSR genotypes to the market they supply. Within our home market we have developed a range of genotypes aimed at different production systems giving our customer a choice of the best breed combination for each one.
     Increasingly we aim to identify those animals that give robust performance. Our pigs need to be able to grow quickly and produce large, vigorous litters in a range of environments. Animals that continue to perform when conditions are not perfect are most likely to maximise total profitability at both farm level and processing plant.
     Our sister company, JSR Pig Production Ltd, farms over 7000 sows and provides the ideal testing ground for our genotypes. Our genetics really have to perform because we are a customer to ourselves. Working so closely with a commercial pig production company allows us to develop a complete understanding of how the genotype works within a production system to maximise profitability.

The Industry worldwide seems to be developing into a more formally integrated production process, much the same as the Poultry Industry has developed. Do you see the breeding role as a future key component or will this remain as a specialist entity in the chain?

Genetics is one component of integrated meat production that touches every link of the chain. The geneticist must understand how changing the genotype is likely to affect each aspect of meat production - from breeding farm through growing farm to processing plant. We must strive to develop breeds that have the closest fit with needs and expectations throughout the chain. This requires dialogue between the geneticist and those responsible for each level of production.
     With increasing integration there is greater opportunity for such dialogue to take place, and those breeding companies who communicate with production managers at all levels of the chain will develop genotypes which maximise bottom-line performance. The key to is to take specialists who understand breeding programmes and get them working closely with technical people at all points in the production chain.

In view of the increasing de-commoditisation of pork products and the increase of more niche products (organic, free-range etc) do you envisage the re-emergence of older breeds or the development of specific genotypes to differentiate these?

One of the advantages of pork over other meats is the range of ways in which it is consumed. The market is re-discovering a number of high quality pork products and is looking at the best way to present these to the consumer. There will always be a need for pork to be produced economically.
     However, where there is consumer demand for premium products with superior eating quality, lines such as the JSR Duroc can be used to produce slaughter pigs that perform well on the farm and also have advantages in meat quality.
     As a consequence, progressive breeding companies will maintain a portfolio of improved breeds with specific attributes which cover the range of low cost meat production for processing to higher cost, superior quality meat for premium brands.

How important are health and welfare traits within a successful breeding programme?

The health and welfare of animals being bred for meat production is a major consideration. Consumers are becoming increasingly concerned with how animals are produced in addition to price and quality. Everyone involved in animal production must therefore ensure that the systems used provide optimum welfare. Genetics can be used to ensure that animals are adapted to the production environment.
     Domestication of farm animals involved unconscious genetic selection of animals with those characteristics that made them suitable for farming. As a result farm animals are much more docile, structurally sound and easier to handle than their wild ancestors.
     The role of the breeding company can be seen to ensure that their genotypes are adapted to the production environment. JSR Genetics' breeding strategy of developing dam lines for different production systems ensures that pigs are well suited to their environment, maximising welfare of sow and piglet. However, optimum welfare results from having the correct genotype in suitable management systems with good health and fed appropriate diets.
     The best welfare will result from a cooperative approach to animal production where genetics, husbandry, health and nutrition are managed in a balanced way.

Do you believe there is a role for genetic modification in the advancement of pig breeding ..... for example in breeding resistance for major economic disease like Foot & Mouth or Influenza?

New developments in biotechnology will continue to give opportunities to improve the pig genotypes. Pig breeding companies have always been at the forefront in applying new technology. Application of advanced statistical methods such as BLUP is a good example. Transgenic methods, where novel genes are transferred into animals for production, depend on identifying the right genes and may not be acceptable to consumers.
     Cloning of pigs may become commercially feasible, but again may not be tolerated by consumers. However, the use of genomics and genetic markers will give us new tools for identification of animals with superior characteristics. These methods are likely to bring about an evolution, rather than a revolution, in the breeding of livestock.
     As with many new technologies there has been a tendency for pioneers to over-promise and under-deliver. Tried and tested statistical methods such as BLUP will continue to be at the core of our breeding programme. New technology (e.g. genetic markers) will be applied to enhance genetic progress where it can be shown to deliver tangible benefits in profitability to our customers and better animal welfare.

We have noticed a trend developing with international pig breeding companies merging - do you see this following the path of the poultry industry where there are now effectively only some 3 to four major breeders in each sector?

JSR Genetics Ltd was formed when three internationally renowned breeding companies: JSR Healthbred, Newsham and Cotswold, were merged. The merger has allowed JSR Genetics to have the critical mass to develop a range of world-class products supplied by a network of regional distributors.
     Globalisation is evident in a number of agricultural industries and pig genetics is no exception. Successful breeding companies will be those that are able to think global and act local, using world class genotypes and systems to improve the performance in farms and processing plants within each market.

Source: ThePigSite's intrepid interviewer - July 2004

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