Promoting animal health for sustainable farming
Intensive farming methods have led to an increase in production-associated disease in farm animals which is threatening animal welfare, product quality and industry profitability. EU-funded research is leading the way in developing innovative solutions to improve animal health in pig and poultry farming.
© Budimir Jevtic #105880374, source: fotolia.com, 2018
A rapidly growing world population is causing increasing concern about future food security. However, the resulting intensification of farming methods to produce more has led to a rise in the incidence of production-associated disease among farm animals, as well greater use of antibiotics. These so-called production diseases compromise the health and welfare of the animals while generating inefficiencies which reduce profitability for the farming industry and negatively affect product quality for the consumer.
The EU-funded PROHEALTH project is looking specifically at the impact of such diseases in pig and poultry farming across Europe, where they are estimated to cause a 10 % to 15 % reduction in efficiency, resulting in huge financial losses. In response to the challenge faced by European farming resulting from the increase in production diseases and the emergence of new infections, this EU-funded research has been instrumental in looking for new tools and innovative solutions to improve animal health and welfare.
We recognise that the causes of animal pathologies linked to the intensification of production are multifactorial, and often interlinked, so we have taken a holistic approach to investigating the various causes of production diseases in pigs and poultry and developing effective and multifaceted control strategies, explains project coordinator Ilias Kyriazakis of Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.
Investing in novel solutions
The PROHEALTH project successfully brought together partners from 11 European countries and a wide range of disciplines and expertise. It integrated research from areas as diverse as molecular analytics, animal husbandry and genetics, immunology, environmental, social and economic science, and digital and data analytics, and translated them into innovative strategies to reduce production diseases in the pig, chicken and turkey farming industries.
A first step was to quantify the economic impact of production diseases in Europe, assess current biosecurity management strategies, identify specific risk factors and establish associations between diseases and a variety of criteria, such as genetic selection, hygiene and environmental conditions. Researchers also worked on developing better diagnostic tools.
Through large-scale industry trials, the project is currently validating new and innovative solutions that take into account the concerns of European consumers with regard to intensive farming whilst offering economically viable options to European farmers.
The aim is to create a system that, although intensive, is friendlier to the animal and addresses public concerns about issues such as antimicrobial resistance and overuse of pharmaceutical products, explains Kyriazakis. It offers farmers a range of non-pharmaceutical solutions which will help prevent and control disease and improve the health of their stock in a cost-effective way.
Information on the project results is shared widely through a variety of ways, including an e-knowledge platform, an online poultry health journal and a digital application called Swine Dialogue. In addition, peer-reviewed publications, participation in scientific conferences, and a series of best practice guidelines and policy briefs will further help to support decision-making among veterinarians, farmers and policymakers.