Invent your own future and become part of the health business, Patrick Wall, Professor of Public Health at University College Dublin, urged delegates during a powerful, provocative and highly entertaining presentation.
Health is our most valued asset, inextricably linked to diet, and the industry should explore realigning pork’s sales pitch to focus on its health food potential, said Prof Wall, a former chair of the European Food Safety Authority.
Human nutrition is evolving, driven by a need to improve public health and reduce diet-related illnesses such as obesity and diabetes and future public health strategies might include dedicated, age-specific ‘life-stage’ diet plans, he suggested.
“Babies have specialist diets, but no other stage in our lives has such tailored nutrition. Different age groups have different nutritional requirements and this is of increasing interest to nutritionists and health professionals.
Could pork be a key an ingredient, here?” he asked, highlighting, in particular, the potential for products to help address problems associated with ageing.
The dairy sector has managed to reverse some of the negative perceptions associated with it by developing a market for bio-available protein. Prof Wall said he’d ‘like to think the pig sector could plant seeds where the dairy industry has ploughed’.
‘Nutrition is evolving driven by a need to reduce illnesses such as obesity and diabetes’
He highlighted research by Devenish Nutrition in Ireland, showing that eating Omega-3 fortified chicken could alter human blood chemistry to cut down the incidence of blood clots and plaques, with implications for stroke and cardio-vascular conditions, and questioned whether pork could follow.
Other work has indicated that health benefits might be gained by eating pork from pigs fed diets containing micro algae, while genetic analysis has revealed that Iberian pigs have less saturated fat composition than modern genotypes. Isolating this trait and replicating it using DNA technology could potentially alter the nutritional value of pork, Prof Wall said.
Patrick Wall – key lines from a memorable presentation
“The Best way to predict the future is to invent it”
“You are in the human health business.”
“I can is far more important than IQ!”
“How are we going to use less antibiotics? Have less disease!”
Epigenetics, which encourages gene expression through exposure to certain environmental factors, can enable inherent traits to be manipulated and enhanced without altering genetic coding and could provide health benefits to society, he added.
‘Priming-nutrition’ could switch on desirable characteristics, which might boost immunity and improve disease resistance, for example.
“Imagine how this technology could benefit pig production. Could specific nutrients act on certain genes so sows produced healthier, more robust piglets? Would this have implications for herd health and future drug use?” he pondered.
Culture is key, be prepared to innovate
Instilling the right culture and being prepared to innovate are the keys to driving a business forward, according to Richard Williamson, managing director of Beeswax Farms.
Sir James Dyson’s Beeswax Farms is a relatively recent entry onto the farming landscape, but now farms more than 30,000 acres across the country, mainly in Lincolnshire.
Mr Williamson explained how the company had been forced to innovate to cope with the ‘diseconomies of scale’, including the sheer volume of transactions involved, that come from being a very big operation in a sector generally occupied by many smaller players. “Innovation will drive this – we have to find new ways of doing things,” he said.
He urged farmers to move away from the prevailing culture of ‘waiting for something to happen’, for example, over post-Brexit support levels, and outlined Beeswax’s own growth strategy that will factor in a likely reduction in support.
“The culture you apply to your business and staff overrides everything else. We forgive mistakes and the culture we have put in place is one of honesty,” he said.