Prohealth consortium will tackle sustainability of intensive pig production

A consortium of 22 academic, industry and private enterprise organisations from 11 countries has been awarded 11.9 million euros (more than £10 million) to identify new solutions to reconcile modern animal production systems and sustainability in the pig and poultry sectors.

Led by Newcastle University, the Prohealth consortium has received the largest ever EU grant in animal health to carry out the project, which was launched in Newcastle on Tuesday. It will focus on exploring ways to increase production quality, limiting environmental impact and preserving profitability for the farmers, and those who live from animal food production.

The Prohealth (PROduction HEALTH – Sustainable intensive pig and poultry production) consortium brings together 10 academic partners, one European association, four industry partners, and seven small and medium-sized private enterprises with expertise in veterinary science and epidemiology, animal physiology and immunology, socioeconomics, genetics and nutrition, as well as the welfare and production science of pigs and poultry.

It draws its members from the UK, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Netherlands, Poland, Spain and Switzerland. With broad expertise and geographic representation, it’s ideally positioned to address the scientific challenges involved, derive meaningful epidemiological data, evaluate test interventions across diverse real-world systems, and propagate outcomes.

Newcastle University’s pro-vice chancellor, Professor Steve Homans, said the overarching aim of the five-year project was to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of intensive pig and poultry farming in Europe.

“The key point of difference is a holistic approach focusing on understanding the multifactorial dimension of animal diseases linked to the intensification of production, and using this knowledge to develop, evaluate, and disseminate effective control and improvement strategies for reducing impact throughout the EU,” he said.

Prohealth will address production diseases of pigs and poultry (broiler and egg-laying chickens and turkeys) raised in a wide range of intensive systems across the EU. The complexity, causality, extent and risks of different diseases and their interactions will be examined under field conditions. Epidemiological and experimental approaches will be applied to investigate links between genetic predisposition (animal) and environmental stressors (housing, nutrition, management), in addition to the dynamic influence of environment on disease.

“This is a very synergistic partnership,” said Zoetis executive vice president Alejandro Bernal. “All parties can benefit from the combined expertise and resource of what is probably the biggest poultry and pigs research network in the world at the moment. This is a great example of a private/public initiative to advance our scientific knowledge, respond to the challenges of the future for our world and improve animal health and welfare.”

Prohealth aims to deliver novel diagnostics to predict the propensity of production-disease development in animals, communication tools for increasing awareness and sharing knowledge (such as e-learning), in addition to spearheading technological advances. Putting the multifactorial improvement strategies into practice will yield better quality products in an animal-welfare friendly manner, in line with economic and environmental sustainability, thereby improving modern pig and poultry farming systems across the EU, and also raising the bar for animal production worldwide.

Over the next 40 years, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations projects that the global requirement for animal derived protein will increase by 50%. Sustainability will be essential to meet this global demand for safe and quality food, at an affordable price, while making the best possible use of natural resources.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health 30% of food production is already lost due to infectious and non-infectious diseases occurring at farm level and at both a European and Global level. Prohealth will take aim at this loss, which if not addressed, will limit the ability to respond to demand for animal protein, as well as compromising animal health and welfare.

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