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Food Quality and Safety in Europe



In recent years, the health and welfare of European domestic pigs has been threatened by the spread of a spectrum of new diseases associated with the infection of pigs with a newly recognised virus called porcine circovirus type 2. These diseases have been named porcine circovirus diseases (PCVDs), of which post-weaning multisystemic wasting syndrome (PMWS) is perhaps the most serious. Affected animals fail to thrive, often get secondary bacterial infections and may suffer pain. Farmers use far more antibiotics but still lose a proportion of their stock. The animals have to be kept longer before they are ready for market and slower growth affects the quality of the meat - which is tougher - while more mature animals may acquire a 'boar taint'. Better information and control of PCVD would safeguard the producers and sellers of European pork and its products, and improve the quality of food for European citizens.


Two research projects in FP5 discovered a great deal about the pathogenesis, epidemiology and replication of the PCV2 virus that causes PCVD. The current Specific Targeted Research Project combines the expertise of the two groups that were responsible into a worldclass consortium that will maintain and strengthen the EU's position as an authority on PCVD. It includes epidemiologists, veterinarians, immunologists, animal pathologists, virologists and molecular biologists. Their objectives are to consolidate all the information on PCVDs, to produce a control system that will enhance food safety and animal welfare, and spread information about it to all concerned.

The project has a range of scientific objectives. A better understanding of how PCVDs develop and spread will be essential to produce viable control measures. The virus appears to be air borne but requires other triggers to develop full-blown expression, which could explain why it has changed from a sporadic disease to one that has recently reached epizootic proportions. A genetic pre-disposition amongst certain animals could be one factor that leads to full expression. The project will also look for common co-factors and infectious or other triggers, and examine the role of nutrition and other environmental factors.

There will be a detailed study of the PCV2 virus, how it reacts with the porcine immune system and where it first replicates. Molecular mechanisms of viral replication will also be investigated. A standardised reagent bank for studying PCVD will harmonise the various studies. The production of a vaccine would be one possible control measure. An information dissemination system throughout the project will ensure that everyone involved in the production of pig meat in all its forms is up to date with the best ways to control PCVD. Consumers and policy-makers will also be in the information loop.


The aim of reducing the incidence of PCVD contributes to the EU objective of improving the safety and quality of European food, as expressed in its 'fork to farm' policy approach. Farm pigs will be freed from the pain of the disease itself and the stress of overcrowding resulting from the slower maturation caused by the disease. The profits of farmers will be protected and some will undoubtedly be saved from going out of business. Their competitiveness in a market, which includes producers from countries where there is no PCVD, will be preserved. Rural jobs will be safeguarded in regions where there are few alternatives. Control measures will generate further employment, and young postgraduate and postdoctoral researchers will receive training during the course of the project.

List of Partners

  • Queens University Belfast (UK)
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Sweden)
  • Merial, SAS (France)
  • UniversitÚ de Gand (Belgium)
  • Danish Institute for Food and Veterinary Research (Denmark)
  • Institut fŘr Viruskrankheiten und Immunprophylaxe (Switzerland)
  • Wageningen UR (The Netherlands)
  • Devenish Nutrition (UK)
  • Centre de Recerca en Sanitat Animal (Spain)
  • Meat and Livestock Commission (UK)
  • Agence Franšaise de SÚcuritÚ Sanitaire des Aliments (France)
  • University of Saskatchewan (Canada)
  • Robert Koch-Institut (Germany)
  • Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University (Denmark)
  • Danish Bacon and Meat Council (Denmark)
Full title:
Control of porcine circovirus diseases (PCVDs): towards improved food quality and safety
Contract n░:
Project co-ordinator:
Gordon Allan, Queen's University Belfast,
EC Scientific Officer:
Isabel Minguez Tudela,
EU contribution:
€ 3.5M
Specific Targeted Research Project

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Last update: 06 December 2007 | Top