A good reputation won’t guarantee success in the pork business, but a bad one will break you faster than a ban on bacon. As they continue their work on a Genome Alberta-led project using genomics to boost disease resilience and sustainability in Canadian pork production, researchers understand that all too well. That’s why a big focus of this initiative is supporting Canada’s reputation for providing safe and healthy breeding stock, and why industry is focused on helping the project succeed.
“Because Canada has been an exporting country for decades, we rely heavily on exports like swine,” said Gordon Waters, Executive Director of Alliance Genetics Canada Inc.
Since we over-produce for our own consumption, Canada sells nearly 70 per cent of its pork to other countries. As part of that process, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) establishes health protocols with the buyers that must be met for export, making disease a potential deal-killer for industry.
A numbers game
“Our company alone exports live breeding stock to over 50 countries,” said Waters. “As people become educated and the industry expands, the need for healthier animals also grows. It’s important that as a company and a country, we not only maintain our reputation but show we are proactive in supporting pig health.”
Ensuring that health is more challenging than ever.
“The modern farm features much higher stocking densities than in the past. 30 yrs ago, farms were smaller so it was easier to maintain health status versus a large operation with a huge number of animals.”
In Waters’ view, it’s no different than human health challenges like going to church with 300 people where a couple are coughing and sneezing and the germs work their way through the crowd.
“If there is coughing or sneezing in a barn of 10,000 pigs, disease will spread quickly and be much more devastating than in a smaller operation.”
By targeting genes linked to disease resilience, this project addresses the current reality of pork production while potentially boosting production numbers, enabling Canada to preserve its competitive edge on the world stage.
Changes linked to animal welfare add to the health challenges, as more pigs are now raised in groups, increasing interaction and the spread of disease. Those challenges will only increase with trends such as raising pigs outside, which has the potential to reintroduce diseases that were once eradicated.
While it may sound like scary times for producers and industry, Waters is reassured by the research.
Full steam ahead
“These health issues don’t get a lot of media attention or prompt discussions at the coffee shop, but there’s a lot going on in the background to address them. Advances in technology are driving progress faster than ever, and the sky is the limit when it comes to genomics and their impact. Through projects like this, industry and the research community can make a lot of things happen very quickly.”
That’s good news going forward, especially as Canada exports to countries with diseases like African swine fever that we don’t have to deal with at home.
“Working on these projects and having animals with more resilient genotypes could help them adapt to foreign environments and diseases without too much difficulty.”
There is still much work ahead, yet just the fact that Canada has made pig health a priority improves its stature around the globe and reassures customers. And if you don’t think a solid reputation is critical to success, just try succeeding without it.