Zoetis looks to Tech City to protect the future of animal health

Zoetis has unveiled its Centre for Digital Innovation (CDI) that will create sophisticated digital products that enable data-driven decision-making to enhance precision farming and improve animal wellbeing for livestock and pets. The initiative, which will be based in London’s Tech City, was launched at an event hosted by Lord Trees (a vet by trade) at the House of Lords on Thursday.

Lord de Mauley, who’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary at Defra, spoke at the launch and welcomed the new investment, which he said would add great value to UK capability in this area.

“It builds on the close relationship Zoetis already has with our universities and institutes, including many research and development collaborations,” he said. “Zoetis’s decision to locate the centre in the UK recognises the strength of our data sciences expertise and commitment to innovation including agricultural and biomedical science.”

Zoetis says the production of high-quality food for an expanding population in a world of finite resources will put precision farming firmly on the CDI’s agenda. The statistics are compelling: a global population increase of 30% between 1990 and 2010 has led to a greater demand for animal protein and need for productivity improvements; seven billion people worldwide consume protein as milk, meat, fish and eggs; 40% of the global value of agricultural output is from the livestock sector and 33% of arable land is dedicated to producing feed for livestock. Overlaid against this is a need for improved welfare standards and efficiency on a scale never before seen.

For agriculture, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) predicts that by 2020, the UK will have created and harnessed new knowledge and technology that will transform our ability to systematically predict, detect and understand key UK animal and health problems and emerging threats in real time. As a result, rapid responses can be made to prevent and mitigate impacts, thereby increasing effectiveness and efficiency within the agricultural ecosystem.

Within this strategy for connectivity Zoetis’ target is to create a digital health record for every UK livestock animal to enable data-driven, decision-making and precision farming. The first products in the digital pipeline include a new app that can detect and monitor information on a cow’s lameness and a device that provides real-time monitoring of growth and weight gain in a pig herd using non-intrusive visual imaging.

For the pig industry, this non-invasive data capture mechanism allows data to be processed in seconds and uploaded into a web-reporting tool. It monitors actual growth against predicted growth, recording the number of daily visits to the water and feed station by individual animals. It produces a weight distribution graph and pinpoints both under and over achievers in the growth stakes, recording key dimensions and accurate measurements of the animal’s weight.

Zoetis is now actively pursuing partners to work with the CDI in the collection of data and development of tools.

“We believe that in this particular space, where technologies are advancing rapidly, the need for complimentary strategic partnerships is essential,” CDI director Ned Flaxman said. “Through our alliances group, we work actively in establishing the appropriate university and industry collaborations that will enable our CDI specialists to develop together the most comprehensive and valued digital solutions for our animals.”

Zoetis’ director of digital innovation, Scott Lyle (pictured), told Pig World that the company had already launched its Swine Dialogue app in Germany that had been integrated with the country’s antibiotics-use database to measure antimicrobial use in the pig herd.

“The app, which is undergoing a trial period at the moment, allows pig producers to track their use of antibiotics,” he said. “It feeds into the German government’s antimicrobial use database, and should prove a useful tool the help promote the responsible use of antibiotic treatments.”

Mr Lyle also revealed that the UK’s pig producers were miles ahead of the rest of Europe when it came to the use of social media.

“We carried out a “social listening project” for messages relating to pig production and pig disease prevention and found the UK most likely discuss these issues using social media,” he said.

“For example, during one sample period we tracked 8,401 message from the UK on pig production issues, but only about 265 on the same topic in Belgium. This suggests the UK is not only more engaged with social media, but also new technology and novel ways of working.”

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