When pigs will swim?

The world population is ever increasing and so is pork consumption . During the last 40 years, global pork production increased with a factor 4 from 24.7 million ton in 1961 to 100.6 million ton in 2009 (FAO, 2011). However, as usual the case with intensive farming many disease-associated problems start to develop, resulting into increased chemical and antibiotic use in the industry. Bioactives in seaweeds might be one of the answers to make the industry more sustainable and chemical free, making pigs more of a marine mammal!

Image of two pigs

Link to OceanFeed Swine product information

 Disease and antibiotic use

Intensive pig farming is susceptible to many diseases amongst them several bacterial diseases and parasitic worms. In human medicine, antibiotic use is generally confined to treatment of illness. In contrast, antibiotics and other antimicrobials often are routinely given to food animals in order to grow animals faster and to compensate for unsanitary conditions on many industrial farms. Bacteria exposed to antibiotics at low doses for prolonged periods can develop antibiotic-resistance—a dangerous trait enabling bacteria to survive and grow instead of being inhibited or destroyed by therapeutic doses of a drug. Since many of the classes of antibiotics used in food animal production also are important in human medicine, resistance that begins on the farm can lead to a serious public health problem.  This has already happened in the border area between The Netherlands and Germany where pigs with a type of MRSA have developed 100% resistance to tetracyclines (an antibiotic) and has jumped from pigs to humans with the resulting consequences that there is no antibiotic treatment available. The same has happened in Britain with Clostridium difficile.

Recognizing the potential for a health crisis, Denmark stopped the administration of antibiotics used for growth promotion (i.e., non-medical uses). Today in Denmark, all uses of antibiotics in food animals must be accompanied by a prescription in a valid veterinarian-client-patient relationship, and veterinarians cannot profit from the sale of antibiotics. In addition, farmers, veterinarians and pharmacies must report the use and sale of antibiotics, and farm inspections are conducted regularly. The Danish government and industry data show that livestock and poultry production has increased since the ban, while antibiotic resistance has declined on farms and in meat. There are real concerns that unless antibiotics are used much more sparingly we will soon find ourselves facing a range of serious diseases in humans and animals that can no longer be treated effectively.

 Natural alternatives

With several countries now banning or voluntary reducing the antibiotic use an urgent need has arisen to use alternative and sustainable feed ingredients and antibiotic replacements. The recent food scares in the swine industry in 2008 (Ireland) and 2011 (Germany) showing pork with unacceptable high levels of PCB’s and dioxins and other bio-accumulative contaminants, demanded further action to be taken to reduce contaminant levels in feed. Moreover, there has been a strongly growing demand for organic farmed products in many countries, insisting that pigs have to be organically fed and reared. In this respect seaweeds have received limited attention; nevertheless several studies have demonstrated that seaweeds can be used as partial replacement for many ingredients in animal feeds, such as, vitamin & mineral mixes, binders, antibiotics, and antioxidants. Several studies have shown that addition of single seaweed species can reduce certain enterobacteria, improve pig gut health and increase iodine in meat. Furthermore they have an antibacterial effect and prebiotic effect and help reducing scouring/ Diarrhoea and Ammonia reduction.

Certain bioactive molecules from seaweed like laminarin and fucoidan have a pronounced anti-microbial action, similar to in-feed antibiotics in piglets. This is beneficial from a performance perspective, as a lower microbial load will result in a lower energy cost to the pig. Also, the removal of harmful bacteria like E. coli helps control disease rates in piglets.

 Ocean Harvest Technology

The Ocean Harvest Technology LogoTo tackle current problems Ocean Harvest Technology has developed and specific macroalgae mix for the swine industry. Oceanfeed™- swine contains a plethora of natural bioactive compounds which by incorporating in the diet can modulate several functions in the pig and assist in the control of chronic diseases and infections found in the pig industry. It allows for disease-free farmed pigs to be reared in a more natural and sustainable way, easing concerns on environmental impact and sustainability. Oceanfeed™-swine is the first marine natural and sustainable functional feed ingredient derived from macroalgae. Nutrition plays a key role in the efficient production of pork, and accounts for more than 70% of the cost of production. Nutrition is constantly evolving in order to ensure we cost effectively supply the feeds to produce high quality pork.

Earlier this year Ocean Harvest Technology in conjunction with Sharragh pigfarms conducted feeding trials with 240 pigs and Oceanfeed-swine at different percentages of inclusion (0.5%, 2% and 5%) and compared the results against an industry reference diet. During and at the end of the trial 16 pigs were slaughtered and processed at the Dawn Pork and Bacon factory in Waterford. Intestinal samples were taken and meat samples were obtained after the pigs were processed by a local butcher (Jarlath Kelly, Tuam) and send to University College Cork for taste analysis and packaging trials. After 4 months of trial from weaning stage to 100 kg pigs the results showed a positive outcome in several ways.

The following results have been obtained:

  1. Higher weight gain, leaner meat and lower food conversion efficiency when pigs were supplemented with 0.5% Oceanfeed-Swine
  1. Significantly improved flavor, juiciness and overall consumer acceptability of the meat at 5% inclusion of Oceanfeed-Swine
  2. Improved observed health and alertness of animals at trial site

There are still some results to be analyzed on gut flora and gut development but the results so far are very encouraging for full commercialization of Oceanfeed-Swine. This strongly indicates that seaweeds could play an important role in intensive swine farming in Ireland and the EU.

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