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NIAA Conference Addresses Disconnect Between Consumers and Animal Agriculture

by 5m Editor
1 June 2011, at 12:00am

The annual meeting of the US National Institute for Animal Agriculture discussed how to reconnect consumers with agriculture and food production. The Swine Committee heard about a range of topics from estimating the industry's carbon footprint and the re-emergence of swine dysentery to progress on USDA pig health programmes.


Concerned about the disconnect between today's consumers and animal agriculture, the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) focused its Annual Conference, on 11 to 14 April, on the theme 'Consumers Stake in Today's Food Production: Meeting Growing Production Demands with Integrity'.

Bringing together leaders in animal agriculture and agribusiness, the Annual Conference, set in San Antonio, Texas, explored the growing necessity of involving consumers as stakeholders in food production, addressing areas such as the food supply, food security, food safety, animal agriculture's importance in the ecosystem and effective ways to communicate with consumer stakeholders.

A number of points of consensus were identified during the two-day Annual Conference.

First of these was that animal agriculture must continue to produce food, milk and fibre in responsible and sustainable ways and continue to earn and maintain a social license by doing what is right.

Animal health efforts should be focused on diseases that affect the greatest number of animals and have the largest economic impact, not the 'what ifs'.

It was agreed that approaches to animal care must be continually evaluated and updated, using science as a basis with appropriate consideration to ethical and societal values and expectations built into the equation.

Because public perceptions affecting one segment of agriculture are often easily transferred to another, agriculture needs to speak with one voice on important issues. Fragmentation is not an option, NIAA agreed.

To build trust with consumers and help them understand animal agriculture, communication must be centred on shared values coupled with scientific data from sources perceived by consumers as reputable and unbiased.

To communicate with consumers more effectively, NIAA agreed it is important to learn, understand and integrate the 'language of the consumer' into communications.

Those involved in American food and fibre production and delivery in general – and animal agriculture in particular – must do a better job of listening and speaking with the consuming public, using venues and language appropriate to age and lifestyle of the consuming public. Open, frequent, continuous and bi-directional dialogue—allowing for differences in experiences, values and expectations—must take place in formats and time restrictions conducive to effective delivery of the agricultural message. Messages should be age- and experience-specific and should start no later than with individuals aged five to six years.

Animal agriculture must better educate retailers and other supply chain entities about challenges and how they are being addressed, said NIAA.

Last but not least, since NIAA is high on the credibility ladder, the organisation should leverage its credibility in alliance and communication efforts. NIAA should continue to pursue appropriate alliances with groups and initiatives that further the purposes of NIAA in communicating science-based and factual information.

NIAA agreed on a number of specific areas to explore and develop, which include:

  • a full definition of what NIAA can provide to these alliances.
  • a complete definition of NIAA members and constituency; the ability to develop, assimilate and pass pertinent information up and down the food chain
  • ways to ensure the diversity of NIAA is used as a strength
  • exploring means and methods of more fully distributing the vast amount of information generated during NIAA events, and
  • what NIAA should and should not do in order to avoid duplication of other organisations.

Swine Committee

The Swine Committee of NIAA met on 12 April with 21 people present. Dr Harry Snelson served as Chair, with Dr Butch Baker as Vice Chair. Numerous topics were covered during the session.

Carbon footprint

Dr Lisa Becton, Director of Swine Health Information & Research at the National Pork Board, presented 'Pork Industry Carbon Footprint'.

Dr Becton updated the committee on some recently conducted research to evaluate the US pork industry's carbon footprint. Part of a number of sustainability research projects Pork Checkoff is funding over the next few years, this research will serve as a baseline and benchmarking tool to help defend industry practices as well as facilitate producer improvements. The research focuses on the entire pork chain continuum and utilises a three-phase approach including a literature review, scan Life Cycle Assessment (pork chain) and detailed LCA (impact of live swine). The carbon footprint analysis evaluated impacts on methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. The literature review indicated a need for further research. While there was no systematic analysis of US pork chain greenhouse gas emissions, preliminary results indicate that the pork industry contributes 3.8kg carbon dioxide equivalents per kilo of carcass weight (kg CO2e/kg).

Results of the research were compared to published results from other countries and species. Comparisons may not necessarily be valid.

Pork Forum

Dr Lisa Becton also presented 'Pork Forum Report', which focused on a resolution pork producers approved at the 2011 Pork Forum. The resolution was 'that the National Pork Board continue to be engaged in the PRRSV elimination discussions that prioritise research and education towards continued development and application of tools and strategies with the goal of elimination of the PRRSV virus'.

Dr Becton reported that several PRRS regional elimination projects are under way, with some funded by USDA's PRRS CAP, Boehringer-Ingelheim's ARC&E programme and individual state efforts. There is a need to disseminate information to producers and veterinarians. The National Pork Board and the American Association of Swine Veterinarians could facilitate information dissemination to their targeted audiences.

Swine dysentery

Dr Jeremy Pittman, staff veterinarian for Murphy-Brown, LLC, presented 'Swine Dysentery Re-emergence'. Traditionally caused by Brachyspira hyodysenteriae, the disease disappeared from the US swine industry during the 1990s. Re-emergence reappeared in 2004-05, largely among growing and finishing pigs.

Dr Pittman said that in some cases recently, the industry is observing bloody scours without culturing B. hyodysenteriae. Diagnostic labs are also diagnosing B. hyodysenteriae without clinical disease. He asked if this should be better referred to as swine Brachyspira or Brachyspira-associated colitis or Porcine Enteric Disease Complex (PEDC)?

A Novartis study shows variability in diagnostic results with regards to clinical signs and the association with B. hyodysenteriae. A study conducted by Trevor Schwartz examined clinical signs associated with B. hyodysenteriae and two types of Brachyspira spp. and found no difference in clinical presentations.

In the field, Dr Pittman's work shows clinical presentation does not associate with pathogens detected on laboratory examination and is highly variable, as blood and/or mucus in faecal samples are not always found. It is easily missed on cursory barn inspections. Histopathology is supportive but not diagnostic. There is some debate regarding the best diagnostic sample for bacterial culture including rectal swabs, colonic scrapings or fecal material.

Economic estimates average approximately $12 per pig. The disease negatively impacts feed conversion, average daily gain, mortality (which may double), increased live weight pigs, size variability, increased medication, eradication costs, etc. The industry is struggling with how to respond: treat, control or eradicate the disease.

The highest risk factor for transmission is largely infected pigs and exposure to infected pests. The bacteria survive well in faeces (seven days), moist faeces (40 days), soil (18 days) or faeces plus water (61 days). There is the question about bacterial survival in waste lagoons.

Dr Pittman noted that the disease has no vaccine. Control relies on sanitation, strategic medication, reduced risk factors and control of co-infections. Eradication may be attempted by two routes: treatment with tiamulin or depopulation with emphasis on removal of infected pigs and rodents along with thorough cleaning and extended downtimes.

USDA programme update

Committee chair, Dr Harry Snelson, presented 'USDA Program Updates: PVR/BR Program Update, Garbage Feeding Report, CSF Surveillance Program, and Influenza Surveillance Project' on behalf of Dr Jon Zack, Director of Preparedness & Incident Coordination, USDA/APHIS, who was not able to attend.

Dr Snelson explained that USDA's surveillance vision is based on moving from programme-based surveillance programme to a comprehensive programme that routinely collects samples from established surveillance streams. These samples could then be subjected to a variety of diagnostic tests depending on regulatory and industry needs. The agency plans to merge the PRV & Brucella testing into a stream-based programme.

In the PRV update, all states remain PRV-free in the commercial herd. One herd (dually infected with PRV & Brucellosis) was indemnified in FY 2010. Samples were tested from the following sources: VDL (14,564), cull sow-boars at slaughter (278,022), market swine (meat juice – 13,318) and feral swine (2,653).

USDA will be publishing a concept paper within a year describing the plan to merge the PRV & Swine Brucellosis programmes for public comment.

On swine brucellosis, Dr Snelson said that the Kentucky and Kansas labs tested 277,811 samples in FY 2010. Three transitional herds were indemnified for brucellosis (two in Texas, one in Florida).

For CSF surveillance, NAHLN labs tested 14,666 swine in FY 2010.

For the Swine Health Protection Act, 1,405 licensed premises, 7,462 inspections, 94 violations and 142 non-licensed feeders were identified.

Trichinae Herd Certification: 42 farms participating.

On SIV Surveillance, the objectives are to monitor genetic evolution and ecology, provide isolates for research and provide isolates for vaccine development and diagnostic uses. Sample submission has increased dramatically since inception of the programme in the fall of 2010.

Further Reading

- You can find out more about the NIAA annual conference by clicking here.


Further Reading

- Find out more information on the diseases mentioned in this article by clicking here.


June 2011