Careful management - not farm size - is key to good pig welfare, according to a new study in Denmark. Following the European elections, campaigners are working to ensure animal welfare remains a top priority for the new Parliament, while the Canadian government has offered financial support to help the sector meet the changing demands of consumers there. Chinese pig prices have not yet recovered enough for many farmers to be making a profit and a shortage of pork is forecast by the end of the year.
The trend for larger pig farms across Europe does not mean lower animal welfare standards. Providing competent staff deliver the right management for stock needs, herd welfare should not suffer, research undertaken at the University of Copenhagen has found.
The study found that features inherent to larger pig farms, such as more specialised roles for staff, meant that high welfare standards could be maintained.
In addition, tighter biosecurity, greater levels of professionalism and synchronised cleaning periods across the farm were listed by project leader Dr Kristian Knage-Rasmussen as crucial factors.
"Disease control measures area good on large farms, with bigger businesses able to invest more money," he told the British Society of Animal Science. "Additionally, larger farms can allocate cleaning times to stages of production, isolating threat from different ages of pigs."
Dr Knage-Rasmussen said the study could help inform consumer perception about large-scale pig farms, adding "Increasing herd size is viewed by many consumers as a compromise to animal welfare. It appears that farm size is not important but management is key."
Following the European Union elections, welfare campaigning group Eurogroup for Animals has stepped up its efforts to keep animal wellbeing on the European agenda.
In Canada last week, it was announced that its pig industry has received a C$13-million investment from the Government for a pork research cluster that will help the sector to keep pace with changing consumer demands, enhance disease resilience and continue focusing on animal welfare measures.
In China, there has been a recovery in the market price for live pigs, reports Ron Lane of Genesus but many pig farmers are failing to cover their costs. Official figure reveal that, since the peak in November 2013, the on-farm inventory has dropped 8.5 per cent or about 36.5 million pigs. This is more than Canada’s total production for one year.
Sow numbers are seven per cent lower than a year ago, which could indicate a shortage of market pigs in China by the end of this year.
Some Chinese pig farmers are receiving financial compensation to cover some of their losses.
For the latest news on Porcine Epidemic Diarrhoea (PED) in the US and Canada, click here.
Look out for our reports from the World Pork Expo, which takes place in Des Moines, Iowa, US, this week.